New Aspire Series About African-American Faith Leaders: The Scroll

Posted on February 6, 2013 at 8:00 am

The Scroll is a new series from director Parrish Smith shown on Magic Johnson’s Aspire Network featuring intimate, inspiring interviews with more than 50 African-American clergy.

 

Some of the faith leaders featured in the documentary are: Bishop T. D. Jakes, Rev. Al Sharpton Jr., Rev. Bernice A. King, Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, Rev. Dr. Jamal Bryant,Bishop Noel Jones, Pastor Floyd H. Flake, Bishop Kenneth Ulmer, Bishop Charles E. Blake, Rev. Dr. Della Reese Lett, Bishop Paul S. Morton, Pastor A.R. Bernard, and Bishop Joseph L. Garlington.

Smith generously took some time to talk to me about the series.

What surprised you most about making “The Scroll?”

How long it took to make it!  It was supposed to take one year, but it took three years to get access to the ministers, to get through their staff.  We got rejected, we would fax and call and and email and talk to assistants and they would say “who are you?”  We got no’s for a long time.  After a while, the yeses started to come through but the process took a long time.

What made them reluctant to participate?

Ministers and pastors have bulls eyes on their backs.  People have bad intentions and want to exploit them.  A lot of people see pastors as crooks.  One pastor gets caught in a scandal and all of a sudden all pastors are bad.  So many ministers are protective.  And there’s the scheduling problem as well.  They have traveling ministries and the scheduling is difficult.  But the primary problem is they don’t know who you are, and that’s understandable.

Were some of them concerned that revealing too much about themselves would interfere with their ministry?

Not necessarily.  We interviewed a few people we did not use because they weren’t being open and forthcoming.  But mos of them were.

What makes somebody a great preacher?

A minister told me that “a great sermon is the one you need at that particular time.”  A great preacher is subjective.  But perhaps he tells a story about how he overcame obstacles.  And perhaps you are sitting in the congregation going through something and it hits you at that time and hits other people at that time.  A great preacher is someone who can deliver a great message and a timely message from the heart.   But it comes from God; it doesn’t come from them.  They move themselves out of the way and let it flow through them to the congregation.

What is the importance of music in the church?

Music is a form of ministry, another form of prayer.  I know some people who really don’t get much out of church or out of the sermon, but they do from song.  Particularly in an African-American church, that tradition of music is historical in our culture.  Old gospel spirituals, old hymns, have been with us for a long time.  It’s a huge element in church.

Is humor important in ministry?

Yes and no.  Humor can help deliver a message.  But some people just want a strong, powerful message, very direct.  Some people think if it’s humorous, it’s not too strong.  I like it.  I think it helps to ease what they’re saying.  I know ministers who use humor and some who don’t.

What do you think about congregations taking advantage of new technologies to reach people?

If you stay home and watch church, you’re missing the fellowship.  If you’re at home watching it online you’re missing the camaraderie that you get in church.  But you have to change with the times.  You have to evolve and transcend the technology.  You can reach people who can’t come to church.  They can watch and still get the message.

How can churches reach out to younger people?

Some churches and some denominations are more traditional, like many AME churches.  They can lose the younger audience.  But if the pastor is young and the service is more upbeat, they can appeal to a younger crowd.  I was raised in a church that was very traditional.  I got very bored with church.  I went to college and didn’t go to church.  It wasn’t until I heard Kirk Franklin and more modern gospel that it brought me back to church, a church that wasn’t as structured and traditional, with shorter services.  The message was still there but the organ was replaced with more upbeat music.  That brought me back.

What do you want people to take away from watching this series?

It’s all about faith and hope.  We all go through trials and tribulations in life.  Hurricane Sandy, Katrina, the shooting in Connecticut, natural disasters and personal challenges.  “The Scroll” is about faith to help us Ministers are often unsung heroes.  We are distracted by the small percentage who are in the media for their mistakes instead of focusing on the good that most of them do.  Ministers are very smart, they’re great orators, and they give so much.  We don’t see them teaching children and going to hospitals and inspiring people every day, all the things that they do.  We see them on Sunday but they do so much more.  And “The Scroll” is a homage to my father, who was a pastor.

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Documentary Spiritual films Television

Bessie Coleman: Pioneering Black Woman Aviator

Posted on September 3, 2012 at 6:02 pm

I am delighted that the small publishing firm I founded, Miniver Press, has produced our first Kindle ebook.  Today, on the anniversary of the first public flight of a black woman in the United States on this date 90 years ago, John B. Holway’s new book about Bessie Coleman is available for 99 cents. Bessie Coleman: Pioneering Black Woman Aviator is the story of a young woman from the cotton fields of Texas, half African-American and half Cherokee, who was told that the brand-new skill of flying was beyond the capacity of women and minorities.  When no one in the US would teach her to fly, she learned French and went to France to attend flight school.  When promoters told her that only white people could buy tickets to see her barnstorming shows, she told them they had to sell tickets to everyone.  She was romanced by a gangster, a prince, and the heir to a chewing gum fortune.  And no one knows if the plane crash that killed her was an accident or premeditated murder.

It is an amazing story, and it is thrillingly told by John Holway, author of many books about 20th century figures.  His book about the Tuskegee Airmen was the basis for the George Lucas film, “Red Tails.”  Coming soon from Miniver Press is a fascinating book by an insider about the recording of the Beatles’ first single, “Love Me Do,” in time for the 50th anniversary of the song’s release on October 5, 1962.  And I’ve got a new series called “Must-See Movies,” with the first three coming out before the end of September.  Stay tuned!

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Books

Mad Men Enters the Civil Rights Era

Posted on March 25, 2012 at 8:00 am

From the New York Times:

There was no question that “Mad Men” would get around to the civil rights movement. From the start, racism was the carbon monoxide of the show: a poison that couldn’t always be detected over the pungent scent of cigarettes, sexism, anti-Semitism, alcoholism, homophobia and adultery, but that sooner or later was bound to turn noxious.

That promise was made in the opening scene of the premiere episode of Season 1. The first face on screen is a black one in profile, that of a waiter carrying a tray of cocktails across a bar crowded with white, mostly male customers. The camera closes in on Don Draper (Jon Hamm), scribbling ideas on a napkin for a Lucky Strike campaign. Asking for a light, he notices that the busboy, an older black man, smokes Old Gold, and Don asks him why he is so loyal to that brand.

“Is Sam here bothering you?” a white bartender interjects before the busboy has uttered a word. Shooting the black man a warning look, the bartender tells Don, “He can be a little chatty.”

It was the dawn of the 1960s, and that kind of humiliation was so commonplace that both Don and the busboy shrug it off.

What I find especially interesting about this is that, contrary to most depictions of the racism of the era, there is no attempt to portray the white characters as aware of or concerned about the casually bigoted arrogance of the time.  Don Draper is only interested in how to help his clients.  But I suppose that reflects an element of self-interest that played a role in the era’s changes as well.

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Television

Interview: Bill Duke of ‘Dark Girls,’ A Film About Race, Gender, and Skin Color

Posted on January 18, 2012 at 8:00 am

Copyright 2018 AMC
Not many people remember today that the crucial evidence in the ground-breaking Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case was a test given to African-American children that proved there was no such thing as “separate but equal.”  The children were shown white and black dolls and asked to point to “the nice doll,” “the one you’d like to play with,” and “the doll that looks bad.”  The test revealed that the very fact of segregation conveyed an inescapable message of superiority.

The same test is given to a child in Dark Girls, a searing and very important new documentary from director Bill Duke (“Not Easily Broken,” “Sister Act 2”) about the last unspoken bigotry inside and outside the African-American community, based on skin tones.  From the “paper bag rule” that allowed only those with skin lighter than a paper bag to join elite clubs to the debates over the portrayal of light- and dark-skinned characters in “Precious,” this continues to be so painfully divisive that it is seldom openly discussed.  Duke and I shared a pot of tea by a fireplace on a cold winter afternoon as we discussed the making of the film and “the unmentionable issue that should always be mentioned.”  Following sold-out shows in Atlanta and Oakland, the movie will be shown in Washington D.C. on January 20.

“It comes from issues of my childhood growing up, the way I was treated based on the darkness of my skin,” he told me.  “Coming up there, observing what happened to my mother, my relatives that were darker, my sister, niece, it was just something you tolerate and learn to live with.  In most families there’s a range of skin colors, not because they asked for it.  That’s just the way it is.  The lighter-complected children are introduced as special because they are the “pretty ones.”  The darker children are loved as much, but they are introduced differently.  That difference may not be spoken, but it is felt and that feeling is something that is carried with them for a lifetime, unless there is some intervention, someone who says, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you, everything is fine.’ You’re challenged on the playground: “monkey,” “darkie,” “blackie,” “tar baby,” “nappy head,” “big nose,” “gorilla face.”  As odd as it sounds to say it, there’s no malice.  They’re just making fun of you because you’re not normal.”

“It’s a global issue,” he went on.  “There’s a $32 billion skin bleach business around the world, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Korean.  We cover it from a global perspective.  Even men are buying skin lighteners.”

The film covers the issue from several angles, historical, psychological, multicultural, even analysis based on quantum physics.  “It deals with energy and how insane we are as a species to distinguish ourselves in differences rather than our commonalities.  At the sub-atomic particle level, there is no difference but we define ourselves in terms of the differences.”  He described the updating of the doll test in the movie, with a five year old black girl asked to select among dolls of different skin shades which one was pretty, and his reaction on seeing her little dark finger pointing to the white doll.  I asked where standards of beauty come from.  “If you’re talking about it from a business point of view, there are certain standards that are set: white or light, anorexic, something I don’t think anyone can live up to but the business of it is setting an impossible standard and then telling you we can sell you things to get you there.  And then it changes.  And if you have no one in your life or home who says that you are beautiful and God does not make mistakes, you will constantly be trying to meet some impossible standard.”

He told me about one interview that did not make it into the movie.  A woman said she had never been in the passenger seat of a man’s car.  She had dated men but always in public pretended to be their assistant or a friend.  She did not think she deserved to be treated as a girlfriend.  He said that for five minutes after that interview, no one spoke because her pain was so palpable and so devastating.  It affects people at every level and in every profession.  “Viola Davis is in our film and talks about her childhood and what she went through.”

“We don’t talk about many things that damage us.  I’ve been told, ‘Don’t embarrass us.’  But children are being damaged and so we have to talk about it.”  I asked him how his perspective was shaped by working in the industry that is overwhelmingly focused on conventional standards of beauty.  “The media is responsible for creating some of these issues and the media can be a tool for communicating a different message.  We’re not suggesting we’re going to change the world.  But we are very, very concerned.  You have to try to use your talents as filmmakers and producers and writers to address some of these issues.”

More from Bill Duke:

Bill Duke: My 40 Year Career On Screen and Behind the Camera

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Directors Interview

Black Reel Award Nominees

Posted on December 15, 2010 at 10:13 pm

One of the most profound professional honors I have received is the opportunity to vote for the Black Reel Awards. I am especially proud of this year’s nominees:
Outstanding Film
The Book of Eli
Warner Bros. Pictures
Brooklyn’s Finest
Overture Films
For Colored Girls
Lionsgate
Night Catches Us
Magnolia
Just Wright
Fox Searchlight
Outstanding Actress
Thandie Newton – For Colored Girls
Queen Latifah – Just Wright
Kerry Washington – Night Catches Us
Anika Noni Rose – For Colored Girls
Kimberly Elise – For Colored Girls
Outstanding Actor
Don Cheadle – Brooklyn’s Finest
Denzel Washington – The Book of Eli
Jaden Smith – The Karate Kid
Anthony Mackie – Night Catches Us
Denzel Washington – Unstoppable
Outstanding Supporting Actress
Phylicia Rashad – For Colored Girls
Kerry Washington – For Colored Girls
Viola Davis – Eat Pray Love
Janet Jackson – For Colored Girls
Shareeka Epps – Mother and Child
Outstanding Supporting Actor
Wesley Snipes – Brooklyn’s Finest
Sean Combs – Get Him to the Greek
Samuel L. Jackson – Mother and Child
Brandon T. Jackson – Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Laurence Fishburne – Predators
Outstanding Director
Antoine Fuqua – Brooklyn’s Finest
Sanaa Hamri – Just Wright
Tanya Hamilton – Night Catches
Allen and Albert Hughes – The Book of Eli
Tyler Perry – For Colored Girls
Outstanding Screenplay, Original or Adapted
Tanya Hamilton – Night Catches Us
Michael C. Martin – Brooklyn’s Finest
Michael Elliott – Just Wright
Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus, John Lussenhop and Avery Duff – Takers
Tyler Perry – For Colored Girls
Outstanding Original Score
The Karate Kid
Brooklyn’s Finest
Night Catches Us
The Book of Eli
For Colored Girls
Outstanding Original Song
Shine (John Legend) | Waiting for Superman
Champion (Queen Latifah) | Just Wright
Run This Town (Jay-Z featuring Rihanna and Kayne West) | Brooklyn’s Finest
Never Say Never (Justin Bieber featuring Jaden Smith) | The Karate Kid
I Know Who I Am (Leona Lewis) | For Colored Girls
Outstanding Ensemble
For Colored Girls
Brooklyn’s Finest
Unstoppable
Night Catches Us
Takers
Outstanding Breakthrough Performance
Omari Hardwick – For Colored Girls
Tessa Thompson – For Colored Girls
Amari Cheatom – Night Catches Us
Zoe Kravitz – It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Yaya DaCosta – The Kids Are All Right
Outstanding Feature Documentary
The Lottery
Why We Laugh: Black Comedians on Black Comedy
Waiting on Superman
My Mic Sounds Nice
Outstanding Indie Feature Film
Preacher’s Kid
Warner’s Bros.
Kings of the Evening
Picture Palace Films / Indican Pictures
Toe to Toe
Strand Releasing
Black Venus
MK2 Productions/France 2 Cinéma/CinéCinéma
Finding God in the City of Angels
Flying Limbs Productions
Outstanding Indie Short Film
Cred
Stag and Dow
Katrina’s Son
Outstanding Indie Documentary Film
For the Best and For the Onion
One of These Mornings
Gefilte Fish
Outstanding Television Documentary
If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise
The Black List, Vol. 3
A Small Act

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Awards
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