• Sister Duo Blends Sci-Fi, Comedy and Puppetry with New HR Web Series


    Kyra and Kozi Kyles are sisters with a serious sci-fi leaning. The twosome launched the Human Resources series, a sci-fi puppet show that explores workforce dynamics.  The webisode series launched in November, 2011.

    Ytasha: How did you come up with the idea of a sci-fi comedic puppet show on human resources?

    Kozi: The idea came from one of my own personal work experiences. I started working for a company that started going through a layoff situation. The only thing I could compare it to was sci-fi.

    Ytasha: That’s a really funny perspective. But why did you use puppets?

    Kyra: Initially we tried to write it as a feature film. We realized we would need a Steven Spielberg budget to create what we were writing. So we said ‘there’s got to be a way to make this’. We thought about doing it as animation. Then we said ‘let’s do it with puppets’.

    Kozi: Kyra and I are not puppeteers. We had to reach out to the community in Chicago. We had some ideas. We had some references. We worked with some students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. David Candelaria, [who] worked on [the movie] Coraline; he gave us great tips on working on the project. He loved the project.

    Ytasha: How did you create your characters?

    Kozi: We wanted characters you can relate to but we also wanted some fantasy. We also wanted to look at some things that aren’t so pleasant to talk about. This is a sci-fi comedy but we wanted to talk about the economy and talk about other issues.

    Ytasha: How many episodes did you shoot?

    Kyra: We shot 11 episodes; we’re rolling them out week by week.

    Kyra: Essentially this is a workplace comedy with sci-fi elements. Most people work at a job and mysterious and strange things happen. People get fired for weird reasons. They disappear into strange offices. It’s a twisted way of looking at the horrible things happening in the work place. People told me they like the two genres (sci-fi and comedy) working together. They don’t want the ‘whoa is me’ take. It’s a way to make a comedy that is effective.

    For more information go to www.hrtheseries.com.

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  • Color in Comics: Interview with Comic Book Creator John Jennings


    John Jennings is the coauthor and illustrator of the new book Black Comix: African American Independent Comics, Art and Culture.

    YLW: How did you become interested in comics?

    JJ: My mom introduced them to me. She’s a former English literature major. I actually started reading Norse and Greek mythology first. One day she brought home a Thor comic and from then on I wanted to read more. Then I segued into Spider-Man, Hulk, Marvel Comics. I wanted to read anything – Richie Rich, Casper the Friendly Ghost. There was something about the images that attracted me.

    YLW: When did you start drawing?

    JJ: I started drawing or trying to draw stuff at four or five. I’ve been drawing since I was really young. At ten or 11, I was trying to make comic books.

    YLW: Where did you grow up?

    JJ: I grew up in Flora, MS. It’s 15 min north of Jackson, a small farming community. We grew soy beans and cotton out there.

    YLW: How did growing up in the rural South contribute to your approach to comics?

    JJ: It made me practice a lot more. We didn’t have access to much. We didn’t have cable. I used my imagination more. I was so segregated from people. I lived way out in the country. It was so far the school bus wouldn’t come out there. My grandmother had to take me to the bus.

    YLW: Growing up, did you realize how few black images existed in comics?

    JJ: When I first started drawing comics, it didn’t faze me that there weren’t a lot of black comics. There were only a few: Luke Cage, Black Panther. I really liked those images, but it didn’t occur to me that there weren’t a lot of images until much later. As a professor, I studied media and images. There are so many negative images. Kids have to see themselves as creators of cultural capital, and create with meaning.

    YLW: Why do feel that the lack of images of color in comics didn’t have the same impact on you as it did for others?

    JJ: That’s an interesting question. I think as a kid you’re kind of oblivious to stuff until you have to deal with it. You stumble across problems and you solve them as you get to them. I didn’t think about it until college or grad school. People become aware of things at different times. If my mom had taken time to explain it to me, maybe I would have thought about it more . The guy who created Brotherman [Dawud Anyabwile] ,his father told him that there weren’t a lot of images and he rebelled and didn’t want to read comics anymore. People deal with information when they get to it.

    YLW: Why did you create Black Comix?

    JJ: It stems from some of the research that me and Damian (Damian Duffy, co author) have been doing for the last five years on independent black comics. We wanted to look at these types of books done by African American creators and the diversity of things that were offered. Also, if you’re not white and you’re in this country you’re starving for images of yourself. So with this book, kids get to see people who look like them who are creating this work. We also wanted to look at the culture.

    YLW: What culture? Comic culture? African American culture?

    JJ: The Black Age of Comics. It’s a movement that’s been going on since the late 90s. I don’t know if you collect comics, but there are various “ages” just like in art. Comics have a golden age, for example. However, Turtel Onli who teaches at Kenwood Academy said, ‘well what about our age?’. So there’s a Black Age of Comics Convention at Kenwood Academy in Chicago. The next one is in October. There’s the East Coast Black Age of Comics in Philidelphia. There’s the Motor City version. There’s the Onyx Comics which I just came from in Atlanta. There’s this subculture that supports the work.

    YLW: How have people responded to Black Comix?

    JJ: So far pretty favorably. We were interviewed by GQ magazine. The library scene has been picking it up.

    YLW: What are some of the indie classics?

    JJ: Brotherman. In fact it’s ready to launch a graphic novel based on it. It was done in the 90s. Totally self produced. Tribe by Larry Stroman [and Todd Johnson], it was an alternative English comic. Tribe is the best selling black book of all time. We have some previously unpublished pages of Tribe in our book.

    YLW: What are some of the new comic creators to look out for?

    JJ: Millenium Wars by Ashley Woods, she’s out of Chicago. She released her first trade paperback and she produced it. Trimekka Studios out of North Carolina is another. They are a group who work on comics. They did Abraham: The Young Lion, Blackbird, Deadly Artisans. I think they’re about to do a crime comic, too. Jaycen Wise created by Richard Tyler. Wise is a cool character. He’s immortal and has lived for thousands of years so he can be in any kind of adventure. They’ve done him in Ancient Rome. I think they’re doing a western. There are a lot of ideas out there that I think people would be excited about if they knew about them.

    YLW: Do you see any similarities in theme or illustration style in black comics?

    JJ: One thing we see is that black kids, like most kids are influenced by manga from Japan but they also like to infuse it with graffiti and hip hop. There’s Shana Mills. Her work looks like graffiti meets Japanese manga. I also see these afrocentric vibes where people use the comics as a political standpoint. Instead of basing characters after these Greco Roman images, they pull from other non western imagery. For example, Jiba Molei Anderson has these characters called the Horsemen, but he uses the Orishas as the mythology to fuel the narrative. He lives in Chicago, too.

    You can see an aesthetic, however as far as story arcs, they are as varied as we are. You’ll have stuff in there that’s funny, political satire, fantasy. You have fantasy that doesn’t represent blackness. Like Millenium Wars, you probably wouldn’t know that a black woman created the work. Whereas with Brotherman, it’s a political satire. It just depends on what the intention of the artist is. You can’t pin it down. But there are so many modes of what blackness can be. I showed this book to my director and he said, ‘wow, they’re so varied’. But they would be. It’s a Post Black kind of thing. What is a post black comic book? Whatever it is you need it to be.

    YLW: What do you hope people will take away from Black Comix?

    JJ: As a comic creator, I want people to know that you can do anything with comics. American comics are dominated by superheroes in the mainstream. But in the independent, they can tell any story they want. People get comics mixed up. They think it’s a genre, but it’s a medium. I also want people to know they can create a comic whenever they want to. It’s possible for people to do that. I want people to leave with inspiration and empowerment. Especially younger people who feel, ‘gee, I didn’t know I could do this’.

    For more information go to http://www.blackcomixbook.com/

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  • Award-Winning Playwright Ayanna Maia talks her New Play, the ‘N’ Word and Hip Hop


    Ayanna Maia is a New York based playwright. She is the 2010 Kennedy Center MFA Workshop recipient and won the 2010 Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award for her play King N—.
    YLW: What is King N—about?
    AM: It’s a play about a personification of the last 25 years of hip hop culture. The character goes from boyhood to manhood and he’s holding on to a childhood dream to be a rapper. The play starts in 1987. You see the effects of crack, the effects of capitalism and it all gets filtered through his life. Not to give away too much, but he basically takes on that name as his stage name, and that word as an expression of himself. In modern America, people acculturate and take on different things, and he takes on the word.
    YLW: Did you wrestle with using the N word as the title?
    AM: I did. I said this is going to be a sore thumb.  It came from a reference in another play I wrote.  I had to ask ‘what does my play want to be named?’ versus ‘what do I want to call it?’ I remember entering contests and my mom was like, ‘please change the title’. One of my professors, Suzan-Lori Parks, helped me workshop the play. I told her my reservation, but she said if this is your character’s journey and what your character wants then you can’t act out of fear.  The play is about his duality and the fact that he thinks he’s a king and a n— at the same time. I said I have to let go.

    YLW: When were you introduced to playwriting?
    AM: I got into Gallery 37 in Chicago when I was 13 or 14. I wanted to be in the poetry program but it was full. They called me a few weeks later and said, ‘would you like to write a play?’ My first play won awards. I was the youngest winner ever to win in the Young Playwrights Festival.

    YLW: How do you enjoy NYU’s Tisch Dramatic Writing Program?
    AM: I was getting another masters, and I left to go to NYU because it was a dream to be in their dramatic writing program.  I had Suzan-Lori Parks as my professor, Spike Lee as my professor and advisor. Richard Wesley was my professor, too.  And I had Donald Boggle as my professor. Do you know him?

    YLW: Yes. He wrote the book on black stereotypes in film.
    AM: Right. He wrote Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretative History of Blacks in Films.  I had the all-star team in terms of research and media. It was just great to be in their company. They have really lived and expressed themselves in the African Diaspora and universally. I had a wonderful time. I didn’t want to graduate. I just graduated in May.
    YLW: Tell me about the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award. Did they stage your play?
    AM: I got two awards. One was the Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award. They also have the MFA workshop, so they pick six playwrights in grad programs. They did a full scale workshop of the play and they had a staged reading. They brought in professional actors, directors. It wasn’t a full scale production. It was a workshop, but it introduces participants to the theater community. One of the women who participated has a theater in Washington D.C and within weeks she said that she wants to put my play up for the next season. If all goes well, it will have a month long run in D.C in May 2011.
    YLW: Exciting!
    AM: I‘ve had plays staged, but I’ve never had a full length play with a full scale production.
    YLW: Do you hang out with a lot of playwrights?
    AM: I know different playwrights, but I find that playwrights are really to themselves. I find playwriting to be very lonely.
    YLW: How so?
    AM: When you’re sitting there writing 120 pages of another world, you just have to go in and write from what you know, your research and what comes to you. For me, it hasn’t been a collective process. It’s such a deep world when you’re writing different personalities. It’s like doing a research project. Even if you write on your own life, you have to step away. It takes a lot of inner work, and inner work hatches alone.

    YLW: Your plays have very strong themes involving black life in the U.S. What do you attribute that to?
    AM: Being raised on the Southside of Chicago with parents who were very into the African Diaspora and different cultures, but especially the African Diaspora, coming out of the black arts and black power movement, it makes me very excited about carrying on the traditions of the African diaspora.  I worked with the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture. I write diverse characters, but my plays are centered on the Diaspora even if all my characters aren’t from there. I love to write comedy. But when it comes to high drama, l like writing about the African Diaspora.
    YLW: You also seem to be heavily influenced by hip hop.
    AM: It’s funny, for my character, I wrote his rhymes. I grew up in hip hop culture. I mc’d, I recorded. I deejayed. I grew up as a practitioner; I found that when I write plays, I get to have a better experience with hip hop than I’ve ever had in my whole life.

    YLW: What do you mean?

    AM: I had a lot of misogynistic experiences in hip hop. I’ve had a lot of experiences where I feel the culture is becoming more ignorant. My dad was a DJ, so I remember when hip hop was on vinyl. It was never separate from us. But as females, the older you got there was more of a line. There were fewer female acts, and you have men presenting females, writing their rhymes and it became more sexualized. I’ve written plays about rappers before, but King N–   is the first that got major exposure.
    YLW: Many women who grew up with hip hop as a major influence have an awkward relationship with the culture as they mature?
    AM: Honestly, when I was younger. I experienced a lot of positive experiences with it in Chicago. There weren’t a lot of female rappers and the guys wanted it to be balanced. The guys I was around wanted to support you. As it came into the 2000s, it was less about the culture and more about the rap game. It was sexualized. I was in an all-female group. I’ve had that duality, I’ve been at a concert where a guy had the whole audience call me a bitch. It’s funny to me, I don’t write as much as I used to. But I still have so much love for the culture itself and the things that comprise it.
    YLW: You don’t write as many rap songs as you used to?
    AM: I’ll record a song a year.
    YLW: Tell me about your new play, 510 Murders.
    AM: There’s a play that I just finished writing in May that’s based in Chicago about the chronic street violence among young men.  I’ve really been exploring a culture that either encourages or is apathetic to using violence. The murder rate in Chicago and the demographic it’s specific to really bothers me. I’ve had two students in my short teaching career who were murdered. I don’t want children to grow up in a culture where violence is acceptable or where gang culture is the norm, even for those who don’t want to participate in it. The other thing I’ve been exploring is African spirituality and I have a couple of other plays with some magical realism.
    For more information of Ayanna Maia go to www.ayannamaia.com
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  • Poetic Justice: Interview with Renaissance Writer Robert Bledsoe


    Robert Bledsoe is a poet, playwright and travel writer. His book “Centennial” is currently available on Amazon.

    YLW: When were you introduced to poetry? How did you become a poet?

    RB: Growing up I was entered into the Academic Olympics. I was pushed into that by one of my teachers. I grew up reading. Sometimes I really wonder where I was and where were the other kids in my class. We were taught the same things, sat in the same seat, the same material was presented to us. The point I’m making is that I was a big reader especially with content that dealt with black America. So this love of literature carried with me throughout school. We read poetry, a lot from the Harlem Renaissance Era in elementary school. Poetry and reading was fun. I’d go to the library, sift through books. Looking back, I’m amazed at how much freedom I had to do this. This carried on through college where I learned more about Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen.. I have degrees in journalism, English writing and poetry.  

    YLW: People are always surprised to find out that you grew up in Englewood. Does the stigma placed on certain black communities bother you?

    RB: Let’s put it this way. If I tell people that I’m from the South Side of Chicago, specifically Englewood, people who know those areas, you can see the look in their faces. It’s like “huh?” Those are areas that aren’t necessarily associated with proper speech, college education, firm handshakes, wearing shirts and ties. It’s an area that unfortunately is associated with what people think is black life: drugs, crime, violence, the black malaise. So when people find out that I’m from there, it takes a while for them to process. And it’s not necessarily white people but black people who have this incredulous thinking process.

    YLW: Why do you think people from the same neighborhoods can take very different paths? Why did you take a different path?

    RB: I can’t really say that there were people on the street saying “you’re going to grow up to be a drug dealer”, or “work hard to drop out”. No one was saying that. The parents want their kids to go to school.  Most of my friends growing up are doing well. I don’t know if it was my block or what but most of my friends are upstanding citizens.

    But in the neighborhood in general, everyone knew the family that wasn’t doing anything. It would seem like it was just one or two houses per block. Everyone else was doing what they were supposed to do. But no one could really do anything about that one house. And somehow that one house really has an effect of damaging an entire community.

    It was only when I got older that I realized these super burdens that we have to carry for that one house on the street. I didn’t really learn the significance of that one house until later. Because that one house would come to define whole communities and that’s not fair. The perception is that all these black communities are blighted and failing but that’s not my experience where I grew up.

    YLW: You’re a poet but you’re not a fan of spoken word.

    RB: No. I’m more of a traditionalist. I’m a poetry snob.

    YLW: Why?

    RB: I think the subject matter is limited and there’s too much emphasis on performance. Traditional poetry isn’t always performed, it’s read. [Spoken Word poets] think if you speak in a certain cadence and inflect on a certain word at the end of a sentence and almost sing, that they are saying something. To me poetry is about reaching the heart and reaching the mind and it’s something that’s pleasing and pleasant. It’s not something jarring.

    YLW: Do you think you’re being a little harsh?

    RB: I’m just afraid that many of our youngsters, when they think of poetry, [spoken word] is what they think about. How many of them are really learning about Maya Angelou? I wish I could say it’s an education thing, but it’s not. Many spoken word people are college degreed, I just don’t think it’s poetry. They’re putting on a show. How about we remove the word poetry and call it spoken word creativity?

    YLW: You have an issue with spoken word being called poetry?

    RB: I think it has usurped the word poetry. Poetry is about more than ‘roses are red, violets are blue’. It’s a craft. I don’t want to say that spoken word isn’t creative, I just think there’s too much emphasis on the performance part.

    YLW: At the expense of the writing?

    RB: Right. You’re not focusing on what’s being said. When you see spoken word, you’re using your eyes more than your ears. I went to a Def Poetry Jam audition and I read a poem I wrote when Gwendolyn Brooks died. Here I am reading what I think is a poem, and everyone else is doing spoken word, and I said I’m so out of place here. But definitely, there was some confusion on my part on how poetry was being defined. People liked it but it wasn’t the write venue.

    YLW: You’re a globe hopper. You’re out of the country three or four times a month. Do you think travelers share a kindred spirit?

    RB: It’s a longing. Why does one travel anyway? If you have what you need at home, why travel? For me, the whole travel experience began with me wanting to know what more out there is there. I know that there has to be some place in the world where I feel free to be me. There’s a song about that. Because the constraints that I felt being who I was on the Southside of Chicago or being one of the few blacks at a small school in rural Minnesota, the constraints on me were tight. They were suffocating.

    YLW: How so?

    RB: Because you couldn’t be a black intellectual. That’s an anomaly. It’s like somehow or another, if you are not a black guy who enjoys hip hop, if you don’t play basketball every weekend . . . and don’t get me wrong, I like watching basketball, but I was never good at it. Somehow or another, some things were equated with black and some things were not. As a collective, I think that black people have bought into it. Travel for me was great. It’s a sense of pride for me that people can see we’re not this monolithic community. We don’t all like hip hop, not all hip hop anyway. Some of these images are damaging. We actually speak more than just Ebonics.

    We can’t have our kids continue to aspire to speak bad language. And that’s what they identify as being black. Maybe I’m old school, elitist, but I think the stakes are too high for us to uphold that alone as the black experience.

    YLW: Why do you travel?

    RB: One travels because one is seeking to discover something. One is not getting something. One wanted tea and spices so they set sail. And I set sail to just learn that there was more to life than America, and getting away from the expectations that are laid out for me. It’s nice to just lay on the beach or read a book on the beach, but these things aren’ t considered black if you enjoy this stuff. I don’t know if you read the John Mayer stuff. (Referring to the John Mayer controversy where he mentioned having a hood pass and not dating black women).

    YLW: I did.

    RB: Why are there elements of our community who feel they need to have a pass and if so, why give it out? And why call it a hood pass? We need a discussion. Do we want to hold on to negative images that go out? We have to have a serious discussion on whether or not we want to move forward. I think President Obama’s candidacy put a lot of this front and center. When people think black American,what do we want them to think first?

    We can’t discount the power of imagery and who has access to media. You can be as individual as you want, but if the collective imagery is of the hood then that individual who doesn’t match the image is going to have a problem. When you step out you are combating the images of people who look like you that are thrown across TV sets across the world.

    YLW: When you travel you don’t deal with it?

    RB: Not as much. Here it’s just so entrenched. Take Eminem. How is it that Eminem can be blacker than me? Some black people would see him as blacker than me. Why? Because he doesn’t speak proper English? He could put on a suit and tie and go mainstream. Do I have that option?

    It’s deflating and defeating to talk about because you realize how entrenched it is. If our youngsters do well in English, they’re marginalized. There’s no reason why in 2010 we should still be having these discussions.

    Robert Bledsoe can be reached at embryonic@msn.com.

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  • Sci Fi Author Nnedi Okorafor talks Literature and Afrofuturism


    Nnedi Okorafor is a fantasy/science fiction writer and English professor. Her latest book is Who Fears Death about Onye, a woman with a magical destiny in post apocalyptic Africa.
    YLW: How did you become a science fiction writer?
    NO: When I was a kid I read a lot of books. I read far and wide and not just science fiction. I was attracted to these stories with magical things in them. I started writing my own stories when I was 20. I wrote magical realist stuff. I started off writing fantasy. It was very natural for me. It wasn’t like I was trying to write it. However, people tried to turn me away from that because it’s not academic. I started getting things published. Then I realized I wasn’t seeing Africa written about in the future so my fantasy writing became part science fiction.
    YLW: What’s the difference between fantasy and science fiction?
    NO: Fantasy involves stories where strange things happen that are due to magic, the mystical, or the unexplained. Science fiction is when the strange things that happened are explained through science, even if those things aren’t possible yet. I tend to mix the two. In my first book Zahrah the Windseeker, you have plant technology and there are technology producing plants. But you also have a girl who has the ability to fly.
    YLW: Your book includes a wide range of elements from shamanism to female circumcision.
    NO: There’s shamanism, there’s Juju in it, there’s magic, genocide, female circumcision. It deals with issues of African men and women. I based my Juju on actual Ebo traditional beliefs. It pulls on the fantastical.
    YLW: Afro futurism is a new term to explain science fiction involving the African Diaspora. Is your work afro futurist? .
    NO: People have asked me if I consider it to be afro futurism. By that definition, certainly. But I tend to resist a lot of the labels because labels can be very confining.
    YLW: How so?
    NO: People who usually don’t read science fiction won’t read it if it’s labeled. Octavia Butler wrote Kindred, a time travel story. It falls in the line of black literature, but if you put sci fi on it, some people won’t read it.
    Some reviewers have called Who Fears Death uncharacterizable. Unless people know what something is they freak out or if they can’t name it they ignore it.  The novel before Zara, my first novel was an adult novel, but when my agent shopped it around it got past the acquisitions editor, but when it got to the money part the reps didn’t know what to call it. It’s fantasy, but it’s too literary. Is the main character African or African American? They couldn’t label it properly and because of that it got rejected and I dealt with that for three years. And then I wrote Zahrah the Windseeker.
    YLW: I’m sure people compare you to legendary sci-fi writer Octavia Butler. What are your similarities and how do you differ?
    NO: I’m a huge Octavia Butler fan. She blew my mind. I was writing these things and I didn’t realize that what I was writing could be published until after I read her work. First and foremost, she writes in a sparse format, almost journalistic. There’s no mincing of words. I always liked how she could draw you into the story to the point where you forget that you’re reading. We both deal with gender and race. We write complex characters.
    We differ when it comes to setting. What I write takes place in Africa or a place like Africa. And Octavia’s books tend to be in the U.S or she starts in Africa and goes elsewhere. So our settings are a little different. I pull from a lot of Nigerian folklore and Nigerian myth. She pulls from that, too, but not so much.
    I feel like every science fiction and fantasy writer, we are all compared to Octavia and that’s because she is one of the only black fantasy and science fiction writers, so I guess these reviewers can’t compare us to anyone else unless their black.
    YLW: How have people responded to your work?
    NO: Mostly, really positive. I’ve had some hate mail from people who feel I’m airing African’s dirty laundry.
    YLW: Hate mail?
    NO: I get emails calling me a witch. In Zahrah the Windseeker,  the main character is Dada, which means a baby that’s born with locked hair. Before colonialism that was very special. But after colonialism it was considered evil. And this character realizes she has the ability to fly.  With my book Who Fears Death, I have opinions about female circumcision and I deal with that in the book. At my first book signing for Who Fears Death, in Michigan, these African academics came to attack me. There’s a female circumcision scene in the book, it’s pretty brutal. I read it and one of the professors said in a real circumcision there’s no lights. Well, this is science fiction. They feel I had no right to speak on this because I hadn’t been at an actual circumcision.

    YLW: Do you feel some of the criticism has to do with you being a child of Nigerian immigrants born in America and not Africa?
    NO: Definitely, my fourth was titled Akata Witch. It’s a derogatory term for African Americans, or American born Nigerians. Akata means bush animal. It’s not a very nice term. The book deals with some of those issues.
    YLW: In Post Black, I write about African immigrants and one American born Nigerian said she felt she had to defend Africans to African Americans and African Americans to Africans.
    NO: That’s exactly what I had to deal with.  It’s like you belong but you don’t belong. The thing is, it’s positioned that we can bridge a lot of those gaps. I understand both sides. But sometimes you don’t really want to be on the defense. I can see a non fantasy book in me on this one.
    For more information go to www.nnedi.com
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  • Publicist Yolonda Brinkley Talks Film in Cannes


    Yolonda Brinkley is the founder of YRB International Exposure which presented Beyond Borders, a cross cultural panel and networking forum for filmmakers, at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival last May. YRB is a marketing and public relations firm.

    YLW: Why did you start the Beyond Borders at Cannes?

    YB: I started it because when I attended the Cannes Film Festival in 2009 I felt like an outsider, although it was a great experience. You have to belong to a certain company to get to a lot of the functions. I saw a lot of minorities there and I could only assume they felt the way I felt. I felt there was something I could do to make it participatory so that we’re not just festival goers but major players in the world festival market. Everyone thought it was a great idea. When I told them I was spending my own money . . .

    YLW: You funded it yourself?

    YB: Yeah. I just wanted to see if I could give it some legs. It was at the Majestic Hotel, which was only about $1,900 euro, which is about $2,500 dollars to rent the space, and have equipment. My airfare was $1,100, as was my hotel. Then I made flyers and t-shirts, so I spent about $5,000. I got about $750 in sponsorship. But it was all worth it. I got a call from the Australian press after one of the filmmakers on the panel won. I’m an up and coming entertainment publicist and people are calling me saying I heard you did this event at Cannes. That’s priceless.

    YLW: Who participated?

    YB: The participants were film directors who took part in the Quinzaine Des Realisateurs. It’s almost like the independent film leg of the festival. They find up and coming filmmakers and directors. I had two of those directors. One was Michael Rowe, he’s an Australian filmmaker who lives in Mexico. Director Philippe Braganca, from Brazil, also participated. Then Michael Rowe won the Camera D’or, the golden camera award for the first time filmmaker in that section. Although there weren’t a lot of people, it was a great panel. They are the crème de la crème of the elite filmmakers.

    YLW: Do you speak French?

    YB: Yes.

    YLW: Initially, you wanted to do a panel focusing on people of color. How did that evolve?

    YB: It went from a multicultural discussion to a cross cultural discussion, because I couldn’t confirm ethnicity, but only nationality. I couldn’t get enough blacks, Latinos and Asians from the U.S to participate. It was an interesting transition before my eyes.

    YLW: What happened? Why was it difficult to get participation?

    YB: It was going to be built around one of the executive producers with Tyler Perry Studios. Then he wasn’t able to come out, due to scheduling. I called alI kinds of studios, production companies, organizations, but either schedules conflicted or people simply weren’t coming to Cannes. Cannes is an expensive festival in terms of accommodations and travel. People aren’t just going just to go. Black filmmakers, even celebrity black filmmakers aren’t just going. There were a small number of emerging filmmakers of color from the U. S trying to go. To my knowledge, there wasn’t a large number of established filmmakers of color there, either.

    YLW: Are you familiar with the Blackhouse Foundation? They’ve hosted festival events in the past to address these issues.

    YB: Blackhouse foundation travels to festivals, but they decided that Cannes was too expensive to attack. They go to Sundance. A lot of people feel it’s too expensive. There was no black programming except Afrique 360, and the founder is a friend of mine. My goal wasn’t to reinvent the wheel.

    YLW: What concerns did the filmmakers on the Beyond Borders panel share?

    YB: The discussion was about diversity in thought and efforts. Michael Rowe shared that when he did his film, his investors wanted to have…and this is common in Mexico in general, they wanted blond haired, blue eyed Mexicans whereas he wanted a person who looked Mexican. He had a conflict with the producers because of that. Ultimately he won out. Braganca talked about financing issues and control over your project. Each filmmaker said they would like to see more coproductions between indie filmmakers in different countries.

    YLW: African American films have a history of not doing well internationally. What do you attribute that to?

    YB: I’m not a filmmaker, but there are so many people at Cannes selling so many things. Often times the urban message does not transcend boundaries. With Tyler Perry or the Madea character, it doesn’t transcend cultural barriers. After translation, in other parts of the world, it’s not funny. If you have a broad message that’s more drama or action, perhaps. But my thought process is, hey you have a film you’re trying to sell, go expand the network and discuss the filmmaking opportunities.

    YLW: You didn’t start your career working in film.

    YB: I was in a public relations and corporate communications function, for Jaguar/Landrover. I quit two years ago to pursue my dream, so this is what I’m doing.

    YLW: What advice would you give to people who want to go to Cannes?

    YB: I say just do it. It’s definitely an experience. If we wait for people for people to give us the permission to do it, then we’ll never do it. When you go, network with people outside of your traditional circle. We want to expand our multicultural, cross cultural network. Go outside of your traditional network to meet people.

    For more information on Beyond Borders contact Yolonda Brinkley at Ybrinkley@hotmail.com

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  • >Rare Coin Investments: Interview with entrepreneur Kenneth Smaltz


    Kenneth Smaltz is CEO and President of K. Smaltz, Inc., the first African American owned rare coin company in the United States.  Smaltz buys and sales rare coins to private investors and collectors. He’s based in Freeport, New York.

    YLW: I’m sure you get some puzzled looks when you tell people you’re in the rare coin business.

    KS: People expect you to sell stocks or real estate. When you say you sell rare coins and precious metals, they say “how do you do that?”

    YLW: What’s the scope of your business?

    KS: It’s more synonymous with an individual selling antiques or art. It’s not something you get dividends from. It’s not a security. It’s a collectible. I deal with all U.S coins. Some people collect because of the history of it. They buy coins from the Civil War, WWII, etc. People sometimes collect because they’re interested in the investment aspect of the coin. They realize that if it’s held on to, they can make money. They say sell me a coin you think in time will appreciate. People buy for beauty, history or the investment.

    YLW: What factors determine the value of a coin?

    KS: Rarity, meaning how old is the coin. Rarity can determine the value of a coin. The condition of a coin, what it looks like and the degree of preservation are factors, too. Sometimes the time period can give it value, too, like if it’s a coin from the Civil War, WWI, or WW2.

    YLW: What coins should investors or collectors look for?

    KS: The coins you would want to collect and invest in, in the U.S should be pre 1933. Any coin can be collected, but the one’s I recommend were made before 1933.

    YLW: Why?

    KS: After that point they started making larger quantities of them, which means there are a lot around. In 1933, a lot of coins were melted for several reasons . .. to raise money for war preparation, etc. Anytime a coin is taken off the market it causes it to be more rare. If you have ten of something and someone destroys eight of them, it makes those two more rare.

    YLW: When people think investments, rare coins don’t come to mind? Why not?

    KS: I’ll just say that it’s not something that we as African Americans are familiar with, but it’s something that other ethnicities have been aware of for quite some time and have been doing for many, many years. It’s a part of their portfolio, stocks, bonds, art, real estate and rare coins. It’s just something our ancestors weren’t aware of.

    YLW: How did you get involved in the rare coin market?

    KS: It was 1984, I was hired to work in the shipping department in a company that sold rare coins and precious metals. The company was a few blocks from the New York Stock Exchange. In shipping, I would ship the coins that sales people would sell to clients.

    KS: When I first got there, I was only 21 years old. There was a gentleman who worked in the company, a senior vp. He was very hands on. He came down into shipping every day, to see what we were doing down there. He would explain to us on different occasions that he liked to hire within .. .that way you know how it works from top to bottom. He said you have to work hard and show initiative. That’s all I needed to hear. I put in a lot of hours.

    KS: The shipping department was like a vault that housed coins that could go for $100,000 per coin. It also housed gold and silver bars. You’re looking at millions of dollars worth of metals in this area. It had to be picked up by Brinks very early in the morning. Sometimes they would ask people to stay over into the morning and meet Brinks. After a year, they trusted me enough to do it. I was there in the morning, at night. When they needed me, I was there. His name was Luis Vigdor. I still know him. One day he said to me’ I think its time for you to move up.’ After a year, he sent me up to the retail division. It was like a bank. The retail division was where people would come in and out and buy foreign currency and buy coins off the street. It was one floor up off the vault. I worked there another year. I worked very hard. Then he said, I think it’s time we bring you up into sales. That’s when I started selling rare coins to private people.

    YLW: How does it work?

    KS: A good part is cold calling. The company advertised in the Wall Street Journal, NY Times. We would take those calls and try to create a base of customers. That’s how I started.

    YLW: Why did you start your own business?

    KS: I had been doing it off and on since 1984. I was with that company for 7 tears. Then there was a downturn in the rare coin industry and they laid us all off. Then I moved to Atlanta, and the company was referred to me by Luis Victor. He’s a good man. I worked for them for two years. I wasn’t making as much money as I would have liked. Then I was referred to a rare coin company in Minnesota. But there are rare coin companies all over the world, I just chose to stay in the U.S. I worked there for 3 years, and then I wanted to come back home. I missed New York.

    KS: I called the same guy said I want to come back and he suggested a company way out on Long Island. I worked out a deal with them and came back. That’s when I said, I’ve been doing this for some time. I know what to do, I have my own clients, I know how to generate clients, but I still wasn’t ready to go on my own. I said I’ll start a company, and I’ll work a deal out with the company I work for to get a larger percentage of the commissions. We partnered off and got a larger percentage of the pie. If anything were to happen, I’d be covered by the company. After a while, I got tired of sharing the profits with people and said I can do this on my own. If you have your own customers and you know how to generate customers, it’s simple you have to take the initial leap.

    YLW: You also do custom coin minting. What does that entail?

    KS: That started in 2004. I joined the Friars Club in NYC. It’s a group of retired executives as well as some people in music and entertainment. Most of my industry consist of elderly people believe it or not. People from 50-70 years of age. If you look at the Friars Club, that’s what they consist of. I decided to join. I knew two people who were members. You have to be sponsored, so they got me in. I joined to get clients, but then when I saw they were doing their 100th Anniversary, I said I’ve never done this before but I wonder if you would like a coin to commemorate your anniversary. A gentleman their pushed the idea through. So I created the coin. . The Friar’s Club are known for their roasts so the slogan on the coin was “100 years, 1 million laughs.” It’s a club of comedians.

    YLW: How long has this industry been around?

    KS: It’s been around as long as there have been stocks and bonds. People have been collecting coins since before Christ. There are coins from B.C.

    YLW: Do you know any black rare coin investors?

    KS: I know of one person who is a collector. I’ve never met any black investors. There are some who have bought in the industry, but I haven’t had any as customers. There aren’t many of them. Although my industry isn’t as big as the stock market, there are several thousand sellers in the U.S. And the number is even bigger in Europe. Out of the hundreds of thousands of dealers out there, I’m sure just one half of one percent of those hundreds of thousands of dealers are African Americans.

    YLW: What’s the largest purchase you’ve ever seen?

    KS: I’ve had a customer of mine who is a multi billionaire. I have by myself put together for him probably the largest collection of Walking Liberty Halves ever assembled. He has assembled the largest known collection of Walking Liberty Halves in the U.S. I’ve been helping him do that since 1997. I can’t even tell you how many coins he has. But dollar wise, I can’t even put a price tag on it. It’s priceless. Think of someone buying from you every month for the past 12 years, purchases, anywhere from $30,000 to $800,000 a month of the same type of coin, several different types and grades. I would bank on it that no one has this type of collection. When he decides to put this on the market, it will be a seminal even.

    For more information on Kenneth Smaltz and coin collecting go to www.keeperofthecoins.com

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  • >Rock On: Interview with rockstar Jameel Lawson


    Jameel Lawson is the lead singer of the rock band Nothing Forgotten. Their music is featured in the film Forgotten Souls by Salvador Barcena,

    YLW: How did you become a rock musician?

    JL: I didn’t choose to do it. It chose me. It was therapeutic. I networked and found the right people, people I could combine with musically and spiritually. I found people who weren’t afraid to cross boundaries or be pidgeon holed into a certain style. I liked being with people of like consciousness where we could do a hip hop beat and turn around and do metal. I’m always growing.

    YLW: Did you grow up listening to rock?

    JL: I listened to ZZ Top in the 80s, Pantera, Metalica, Bob Marley, Van Halen. I grew up listening to it. It planted the seed.

    YLW: But you started off doing r&b and hip hop.

    JL: When I was in Good Vibes with Ben Vereen, I started off rapping and doing r&b. I still have those elements that I use. I still rap and sing but it’s more aggressive. At one point I wanted to be the rapper and the r&b singer, but there was something within me that was a little more animated. I wanted to scream a little bit. The primal scream as they say.

    YLW: Being African American, did people ever question your musical aspirations in rock? Did you question your ambitions?

    JL: When you make a choice to embark on a new journey that most people of color don’t go, it’s like what am I doing? Then when you listen to the still small voice you say this could be something different. Being one of the few black rockers and one of the few notable ones is pretty flattering. It was a little frightening but anything that you do when you step out on faith, like your book, it just works out. Someone said that’s a mark of a genius when you do something that the masses can’t do. I thought about that. It’s a blessing. It’s powerful. There was a little bit of fear but I just rock on.

    YLW: The term black rock is used to describe rock artists of African ancestry. What does the term black rock mean to you?

    JL: In a nut shell, rock is a music of African ancestry that is now predominantly white. When I think of black rock, I think of the origin. Chuck Berry is the god father of rock and roll. Jimi Hendrix was an innovator. Living Colour pressed forward. I am a front man of a rock band with four individuals who are caucausian. I think of all those predecessors who paved the way. I look at black rock in that sense, but not where the music itself is color oriented. I don’t see color in music. I don’t know if other people do.

    YLW: Is rock music a freer expression of music than rap?

    JL: Definately. There are no boundaries at all. Your soul is free to express itself. We’re not worried about what’s going to get us signed. People are open minded when it comes to a rock song. People listen to the music first. Not to talk down on rap, but there’s more freedom because rock is not caught up in what’s hot at the time. Music needs to resonate with people. Rock music tends to have people who write music that resonates with the soul instead of with what’s the hot sound. In rock and roll and even soul, certain songs don’t die. Common, for example, is a hip hop artist who has a lot of songs that still resonate. It depends on the artist, it’s not just the style of music. There are a lot of r&b artists and rap artists whose songs resonate.

    YLW: What’s your day like?

    JL: I say a prayer, go to work, write a little. I practice two or three times a week. Spend time with my family. I still have a day job right now.

    YLW: How do people respond when you say you sing in a rock band?

    JL: Depends on who I say it to. If I’m talking to African American people, it’s ‘oh, that’s tight, I like rock music.’ Or sometimes, when I tell caucausion people, it’s like “oh, really” or ‘I never thought that.’ Unless it’s a person who really listens to that music then they know about Cody Chestnut,etc. But the one’s that don’t and aren’t open minded are surprised that there are black rockers out there. I rarely come across someone who says “why do you do that?” We have a black president today. Being a black rock musician isn’t as shocking.

    YLW: Why did you join a band?

    JL: I’ve always wanted my own band. I had an experience when I was doing my R&B rap stuff and the cd started skipping and it was so embarressing. I started rapping after the skip but at that point I had already lost the crowd. This was 2002 and I said I want a live band. There is a huge freedom because there are no boundaries. I think about Alanis Morrisette. She was a pop/r&b singer and now she’s a rock artist. I still use those gifts and talents of being an r&b singer, I just do it to different music. It’s louder. For people who aren’t used to going to shows, I say bring your ear plugs.

    YLW: Who do you admire?

    JL: Chuck Berry, Living Colour, Cody Chestnut, Lenny Kravitz, Prince, Michael. It’s all across the board as far as singers that I admire. James Brown, he was one of the first artists to do that primal scream and he wasn’t a rock artist. Little Richard, he screamed. Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley. Jim Morrison, the Doors. Stevie Wonder, he’s a genius. I can go on. But it’s all a reflection . My drummers favorite band is Kiss. We all have our own influences that make up who we are.

    YLW: What’s it like to be a lead singer of a rock band. You’re the front man. What responsibility comes with that?

    JL: A caucasion guy told me once that there’s something about a black rocker, where you can stand on that stage and people will look just to see. And they’ll come because they know it will be really good or really bad.

    YLW: Wow.

    JL: Sometimes I feel my back is against the wall. It’s like they’re looking at me hard. I’m the only one on the bill who’s the African American front man of a band. So I want to be better than everyone else. It’s always a battle of the bands. You want the bands to do a good job, but I don’t want to suck. No show is too small to put on a performance that is worthwhile to see again.

    YLW: How did Nothing Forgotten meet?

    JL: It’s not like we knew one another in high school. We assembled over the Internet. We were on myspace, Craigslist. Two individuals got together and started jamming together. I saw an ad looking for a singer and I just joined. We’ve grown to know one another’s quirks. We don’t allow that creativeness to be stifled. We don’t’ say ‘oh we can’t rap because we’re a rock band.’ We even have a rock version of a jazz song. We don’t set any boundaries. But that comes with trust and to trust the music and what’s best for the particular song.

    YLW: Why is it important to know about the role of African Americans in rock?

    JL: It’s important because I can draw upon those inspirations to continue to write great music. Some people feel we created rock and roll and abandoned it. I think it’s important because it shows it’s not new or alien. It’s out there. It’s us going back to our roots. A lot of people would disagree with that. Any form of music can have soul in it. It’s all about the artist themselves.

    Nothing Forgotten’s music is available on Itunes.

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  • >Hoodoo and Soul: Interview with author Stephanie Rose Bird


    Stephanie Rose Bird is author of The Big Book of Soul: The Ultimate Guide to the African American Spirit. Her body of work includes studies of African Traditional Religions (ATRs), African Derived Religions (ADRs) and earth based spirituality. She’s a professional member of the American Folklore Society, the Herb Research Foundation, and the American Botanical Council.

    YLW: Tell me about “Big Book of Soul.” What practices do you discuss?

    SRB: I talk about drumming, dancing, ecstatic dancing, singing, whistling. There are beauty rituals. I talk about African Traditional Beauty Standards. I talk about recipes for making henna. I have some Egyptian bath and foot soaps. I talk about soul food, ways to use it and the vital chemicals and nutrients that it includes. There’s a lot of mythology and folklore in there.

    YLW: I read about one practice that attracts lovers?

    SRB: The nation sack is a type of mojo bag that women would carry in their bra and it would have oils, herbs and roots inside. So it’s something good to have for Valentines Day. I talk about how to make one in the big book of soul.

    YLW: Your book explores the spiritual concepts of soul and discusses African Derived practices like Hoodoo that people can incorporate in their lives today. Usually, when people talk about soul and black culture, they’re referring to music.

    SRB: Soul is in music. It’s inexplicable. It’s difficult to define. Instead I focus on earth based cultures that support soulfulness. I talk about soul nurturing practices in the African Diaspora and also of ancient cultures. I just feel it is a force that is readily available to tap into. Even in the Christian Church when people get happy and get into gospel music, they’re tapping into these elements of soul.

    YLW: How did you come to study earth based religions, African Traditional Religions, and African Derived Religions?

    SRB: It began with me living really close to the earth . I’ve been involved in earth based religions since I was 13. I grew up in New Jersey on the lake front. The forest and trees were more of my friends than anything else. I connected with nature at an early age. I have one grandmother who was a spiritualist minister and herbal healer, my grandmother was psychic, and I have an uncle who is a babalewo. My grandmother was into tea leaf reading, numerology. Of course, I have a lot of family who were into traditional Christianity, too.

    YLW: Why are you an advocate or these expressions of spirituality?

    SRB: I hope to see African belief systems and ways of healing get equal footing with Native American, Ayurvedic, and other earth based expressions. I’ve written five books and four of them are centered around African earth based spirituality.

    YLW: Why aren’t African inspired forms of expression as well known as other forms of earth based expressions?

    SRB: It’s really complex. I still think that the general society looks at African religions as being dark and mysterious and dangerous. Also, I think in African American society, when you think spirituality, the first thing that comes to mind is Christianity and after that Islam. People don’t think about earth based spirituality. I think the practices are dying out.

    YLW: In your book you talk about Hoodoo and various practices. Did you grow up in a family that discussed and practiced Hoodoo?

    SRB: Hoodoo was never really spoken about or named in my family. My family settled in New Jersey. The slave ancestry was in Virginia. But it was the practices themselves that I retained visually. It wasn’t transmitted to me orally. My mother did talk about wars with neighbors or throwing dust between neighbors. My mother would throw pennies for good luck, she would burn incense to cleanse the home. She would do things that she retained from her mother. Not only did I retain her practices, but I studied them to see what they meant. I traced a lot of these practices back to Egypt. I talk a lot about Egypt and Africa in my work. Everything in our society tends to be thought of in a generalized way. I look at Continental Africa and see how it came down through the ages.

    YLW: What are some common Hoodoo practices that are popular today?

    SRB: Painting the bottoms of trees white. They do it in the rural South. It’s associated with the spirit world. The color white is the essence of our being and it’s very other worldly. There’s a reverence for metal. Horseshoes, for example. We had horseshoes in our home. The metal smiths are revered in West African culture because they have transformative practices. We carry dimes with us and lucky pennies. I think some of the things that I talk about might confuse younger people. Even things I grew up with like having a lucky penny, I don’t know if many kids today do. I think they’re losing their way. These are practices that people don’t think about anymore. Not many people have horseshoes in their home.

    YLW: There does seem to be a renewed interest in earth based spirituality. For example, many people are doing celebrations to acknowledge the Winter Solstice in addition to Christmas, which is a preChristian practice.

    SRB: I know what you mean. I go to a unitarian, universalist church and we talked about yule and prayed in the four directions. I was dumbfounded but it was very neat. When I first went to the temple I saw a pagan song in the hymn book. I really like this church. I told the minister that I’m pagan and he said ‘welcome, we’re glad to have you here.’

    YLW: You identify yourself as pagan?

    SRB: Pagan, meaning the older, preChristian ways. It doesn’t have a negative connotation to me. Some people in my circle call themselves heathens. I’m preChristian, preIslamic in my systems and beliefs.

    YLW: So you wouldn’t say that you practice an African Traditional Religion?

    SRB: I practice African Derived Religions.

    YLW: What’s the difference?

    SRB: African Derived Religions include Santeria or Hoodoo. They’re not African Traditional Religions, but were inspired by them and evolved in the New World. An example of an African Traditional Religion would be Yoruba. I take a lot of consideration of ATRs in my writing. They have influenced the African Derived Religions. However, I am not initiated. There are things that bother me with the initiation process in ATRs. For one, I’m an animal lover and I have a problem with sacrifice. I talk about substitutes for blood in my work, like using pomegranate juice for your rituals.

    YLW: So how would you identity your spiritual practice?

    SRB: I am Pagan, I practice Hoodoo and I’m a Green Witch. I’m not Wiccan. Green Witches practice magikal herbalism.

    YLW: Are you spelling magical with a K?

    SRB: Yes, the other spelling refers to slight of hand tricks. That’s not what I do.

    YLW: How did you become a Green Witch?

    SRB: I did a lot of reading and I had friends when I was 13. Today, I’m called a solitary, I’m practicing alone. I do yahoo groups and meet up with different practitioners, though.

    YLW: How were you introduced to it?

    SRB: I think you’re born a witch. I had it in me. So when my friends came out of the broom closet so to speak and said they were witches, I said alright.

    YLW: You combine a variety of practices.

    SRB: I am an eclectic. I collect practices. I figure why not. Tradition has it’s place and I respect it. But I am not traditionalist at all. I’m in an interracial and intercultural marriage with interracial, intercultural children. I go to a unitarian church. Some witches would raise their eyebrows that I would even go into something that’s called a church.

    SRB: You know, as I was talking to you, I found some cobwebs. My mother used cobwebs and put them on my cousin’s head and healed his concussion. He didn’t have to go to a doctor or anything. That’s one of the things I talk about. In the book, I talk about how over time, we had to doctor ourselves. A lot of these healing ways we had to do because white doctors didn’t want to deal with us. Black women were the chief medical people on plantations, they ministered to the enslaved and the owners. They were midwives. I try to learn as much as I can about what they did as possible.

    YLW: Why weren’t many of these practices passed down? Today, where they are present, they’re often labeled as superstitions.

    SRB: By law. Some of it became illegal in the Caribbean and parts of the south. It was illegal to do dances. That’s how the shuffle was created. We were creative and found ways around it. The only time you talk about a kind of spirit is when people talk about the holy spirit or the holy ghost. The whole idea of being mounted and ridden by spirit is evident when people get happy in church. I wasn’t as exposed to Baptist and Pentecostal growing up, but even in the Methodist church, people would get happy. The practices started off being really oppressed. That’s how it got tucked under the skirts of saints and Christianity.

    YLW: How would you suggest that someone start incorporating these practices in their life?

    SRB: Buy my book. The first one Stick Stones, Blood and Bones is a book of practices. It has hands on recipes and talks about how to raise a Hoodoo child. The Big Book of Soul is good for understanding why you might want to practice. My writing keeps developing and it’s going in a very linear matter.

    YLW: Do you ever get negative responses from other spiritual practitioners who aren’t familiar with African inspired practices?

    SRB: I’ve never received negative responses. I’m not open with everyone. There’s some people who wouldn’t understand and it’s not worth my energy. For some, I’m Stephanie Bird, generic person, not a Pagan, not a Green Witch. I don’t go around wearing a badge describing who I am in that way.

    YLW: What is your response to people who say that this is all superstition?

    SRB: I would say that you are wrong. I don’t know what superstition is supposed to mean. There is wisdom in folklore and tales that we can use in our lives.

    For more information go to http://www.stephanierosebird.com/

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  • >Critic’s World: Interview with Film Critic and Classical Radio Host Sergio Mims


    Sergio Mims is a film critic and curator of the International Black Harvest Festival of Film and Video. He also moderated an intriguing discussion among filmmakers in the March issue of Ebony Magazine and hosts a classical musical show on WHPK FM in Chicago. PHOTO (l-r, Classical singer Micha Brunagosman and critic Sergio Mims)

    YLW: How does one become a film critic?

    SM: It’s very simply a knowledge of movies and knowing how to talk about films in an intelligent way. When you have a knowledge of films you can compare films of a similar theme and genre. If you want to be a film critic, just start reviewing movies.

    YLW: Why aren’t there more African American film critics?

    SM: I have wondered that and I have been asked that but I can only speculate. This could be controversial, but I’ll say it anyway. Going back to the concept of Post Black, I think there may be a stigma attached to being a critic.

    YLW: Really? How so?

    SM: It’s not cool. It’s nerdy. There are still people who are resistant to the notion that you can be whatever you want to be. In other words, I think that being a critic is viewed as something that black people don’t do. Nikki Giovanni says in this poem that “ my universe is five blocks.” Some people have a five block mentality. They feel you can only go so far.

    YLW: So you’re saying that there aren’t more critics of color because it’s not viewed as “cool?”

    SM: Have you ever been around film critics? They’re the nerdiest bunch you ever want to see. We think we’re cool and sophisticated,but it’s like being a computer geek. It’s a nerdy endeavor.

    YLW:  You had an opportunity to moderate an intriguing panel with several black filmmakers including Lee Daniels, Antoine Fuqua, Bill Duke, Gina Prince Bythewood and Will Packer for Ebony Magazine. Were you surprised by any of their comments?

    SM: The audience will be surprised to see these filmmakers and their understanding of the business, how it works and the realities. Anyone who’s interested in filmmaking should read this article. People have a very pollyanna view of film. When you hear about the struggles Antoine Fuqua had making Brooklyn’s Finest or Gina Prince Bythewood and The Secret Life of Bees. They were very eloquent and honest about it. It wasn’t surprising to me, though..

    YLW: Why would this be surprising to the audience?

    SM: I don’t think people have an understanding of what the film business is about. And too many filmmakers go into filmmaking not because they love films but because they like notoriety. If you love movies, you know it’s a battle to get a film made. It’s not about people making a fuss over you after the film is made. It comes down to ‘I have a story I want to tell.’ It’s not about making a fuss or making money, or getting reviews but about telling a story to an audience.

    YLW: Why is there a belief that filmmaking is purely about hype and celebrity?

    SM: Every week now we read about box office numbers. This is a fairly recent thing. Before, nobody talked about box office receipts. That was something between the studio and the bean counters. If it did well, fine, if it didn’t, no one knew. Everyone knows that Avatar is the biggest film ever made. Everyone sees the red carpet premieres. There always was a push of the glamorous side, but with all the media and websites, it’s even more sold than ever. The glamor side is pushed more than any other. What isn’t shown is the reality of the business.

    YLW: I’ve interviewed other filmmakers and we’ve discussed how black films are expected to combat negative images of the past and make some form of social commentary. What are your thoughts on this?

    SM: It’s still a core belief. It’s a wrong belief. Can you think of a black film or tv show that every black person praised? Everyone’s going to find fault with something. No one movie or tv show can address all the ills and stereotypes that have appeared in the past 100 years and it would be foolish for any filmmaker to try to do that. All you can do is make your movie and hope people will like it. You can say there are some films that are better than others, or somethings that will represent blacks better than others. But no film can solve everything.

    All we need are more black films to deal with black life and culture. That’s what Black Harvest Festival of Film and Video does. Black life is very diverse. There is no definitive example of black life. No film can do that. In order to accomplish that, we need many, many more films. And even then there won’t be enough. So stop jumping on one movie and feel this film will solve everything we’re going through.

    YLW: So what’s next in film?

    SM: In terms of film, you never know what’s going to happen next. Who would have predicted Tyler Perry ten years ago? Who would have predicted that Spike’s career would be on a serious downturn? Who would have thought Lee Daniels would be the filmmaker everyone is talking about? In terms of black film, what I have noticed, and this is really recent, in the last two or three years, I’ve seen more and more black filmmakers following their own voice.

    SM: For a long time, people were trying to rip off what’s hot. When gangsta rap was hot, you saw a bunch of knock offs or I saw a bunch of Tyler Perry rip offs. Following your own voice is the key. That’s how you get A Good Day to Be Black and Sexy or Medicine for Melancholy or a Kenyan film shot in South Africa, called Pumzi. Not all, but it looks like filmmakers are saying why copy somebody else? What’s important to me? What do I want to say?

    YLW: What do you accredit this new diversity to?

    SM: I think we’re dealing with a whole new generation of filmmakers coming up and people just got tired of what they were watching. They said I don’t want to see the same movie over again. This goes back to your whole Post Black concept, more filmmakers are of that ilk, saying I want to look beyond what we were doing or stuck doing, or break out of the box we were a forced in and stuck in. I want to break out. You have the Book of Eli by the Hughes Bros. Now, the fact that there was not one new thing in that film that was not taken from another film is one issue, but I’m happy that they did a sci fi. Why aren’t more black filmmakers doing sci fi? A lot of African filmmakers are starting to do sci fi.

    YLW: What’s on the horizon in the film fest circuit?

    SM: I’m very anxious. I’m putting together Black Harvest now. People are really finally doing interesting films. I see more of a range. I look at Night Catches Us, a period love story between two ex panthers. with Anthony Mackie and Carrie Washington at Sundance. That’s interesting. A couple of years ago that would have been unheard of. I see a lot of movies out there that don’t fit the mode. Films like Family, the black lesbian drama, and Black Dynamite. I think that’s why we had the highest grossing fest last year, because there’s so much diversity. A filmmaker has to challenge themselves. Spike tried a war movie, we see how that turned about, but he gets A for effort. Filmmakers try to explore some avenue of their talent. If you’re an artist, you’re supposed to take risk.The artists that I do know, they don’t concern themselves with that, they do what they do. If people don’t like it, that’s their problem. There is no mode of what an artists should be, they don’t care.

    YLW: What are your thoughts on the Post Black concept?

    SM: As far as Post Black, it’s been happening for a long time. There have always been people who didn’t fit the mode. I look at Ralph Bunch or Leontine Price or Paul Robeson, and these are just people we know. There have always been people who have been post black, who said do not put me in this box, I refuse to be put in this box. I think of Dean Dixon, one of the first internationally known symphony composers. I hate the idea of a definition of blackness. There is no definition of blackness.

    YLW: You host a classical music show. How did you become a classical music lover?

    SM: I just gravitated to it. My father listened to all kinds of music. When people say ‘I listened to all kinds of music,’ well they don’t mean it. My father did and I fell in love with classical.

    YLW: Was it rough growing up as a teen being a classical music fan?

    SM: It ain’t been easy. There’s a mindset that if you’re black this is what you’re supposed to be and if you deviate from that from a fraction of an inch, they don’t understand you. When I was in high school nobody was interested in what I was interested in. I was into foreign films and classical music. I took a lot of heat. Then when you get my age, people think you’re a genius, some Einstein. I interviewed this classical singer Micha Brunagosman. We were there with friends and for two hours, most of it was the two of us talking about classical music. It was totally inside baseball. And at one point, one guy at the table said I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’ve seen every orchestra in the world and if I wasn’t in this, I would try to be a conductor. My classical music collection is astounding.

    YLW: You are a person who created your own path.

    SM: You can call me any name in the book. Twenty years ago, I would have cared. When you get older you don’t give a rats ass anymore. You don’t care what people think about you. Younger people are always thinking about what other people think about you. It’s refreshing to not care. I look at the black gossip websites and I don’t know who these people are. And I say, thank God, I’m not at at age where I have to know every new song and new person, which I never really did anyway.

    You can read Sergio Mims’ work on http://www.shadowandact.com/ and http://www.ebonyjet.com/

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