• Disrespecting the Black Woman

    The Connotations of Don Imus, Isiah Thomas, Music Videos and the B-Word

    Why is it that black women and their images are increasingly ignored, stereotyped, overlooked, typecast, disapproved of, denigrated, disrespected and rejected without mainstream media firestorm condemning it? The cases where this occurs are endless. The general silence, indifference and complicity of the Black community when it comes to disrespecting black women is alarming. With the exception of icons such as Oprah and magazines such as Essence, seldom is the portrayal of black women in the mainstream media positive.

    Never-ending Negative Portrayals of Black Women

    MTV aired a cartoon to young Saturday morning viewers entitled “Where My Dogs At?” which had black women squatting on all fours, tethered to leashes. Naomi Campbell, one of the most visible black women, who despite her successful modeling career is mostly mentioned when its about her cell phone attack on her workers. Halle Berry, despite her spectacular role as Dorothy Dandrige, won an Oscar for being a lose woman in “Monsters Ball.” Omarosa is portrayed as a controlling and ruthless witch. Women, competing for Flava Flave’s love are portrayed as goldiggers, cheap and sleazy in “Flava of Love,” and the only black woman in “Desperate Housewives” is portrayed as a vile psychopath who chains her disabled son in the basement.

    To top that Magazine ads frequently employ colorism; favoring light-skinned Blacks over brown-skinned ones, instead of celebrating the differenced in a balanced manner. To boot, many music videos use Black women as hypersexualized props for the fantasies of male rappers, with their “catchy factory-produced, hot-selling” beats. It’s in these same videos that (some) black men call black women bitches and hos. In no other music genre are Black women constantly disrespected by the very men who should be honoring them.

    What was Don Imus Thinking?

    The increasing numbers of disgraceful, disrespectful and demeaning videos, photographs and movie clips with disparaging images of black women were unheeded for decades until the climax of the Don Imus Era. Don Imus, a leading radio talk show host was fired for making derogatory racial comments about a collegiate women''s basketball team on his nationally syndicated program. He referred to members of the Rutgers University Women''s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos,” causing a public outcry from thousands of already fed up Black women and men.

    The radio host tried to remove some of the attention from himself, saying, “that phrase originated in the black community - I may be a white man, but I know that these young women and young black women all through that society are demeaned and degraded by their own black men and that they are called that name.”
    Isiah Thomas’ Insult: Is It Different When White Men Call Black Women “Bitches?”

    On the heels of the Don Imus scandal was the Isiah Thomas controversy. New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas, also known as Zeke, shocked viewers and fans worldwide by displaying blatant sexist, ignorant behaviour when he was sued for berating the Knicks Executive – an African-American woman, Anucha Browne Sanders with expletive-filled tirades. She sued him for sexual harassment.

    Thomas, the two-time NBA champion guard lashed out at her by announcing, “Don't forget, you f——— bitch, I'm the president of this f———- team,” In March 2004, Browne Sanders said he also berated her by saying, “What the f—- is your job? What are your job responsibilities, you f———- ho?”

    In a videotaped deposition played for the jury at the sexual harassment trial, Thomas said he drew a distinction between whites and blacks when it came to the word bitch. Asked if he was bothered by a black man calling a black female “bitch,” Thomas said: “Not as much. I’m sorry to say, I do make a distinction.

    “A white male calling a black female a bitch is highly offensive,” Thomas said. “That would have violated my code of conduct.”

    The public reaction? National and international outrage. CNN-coverage. A coalition of African American leaders, led by Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope, condemned his usage of the word bitch while referring to black women:

    “Isiah Thomas owes black women a public apology….That type of statement and mindset that Thomas has is ridiculous and should be condemned. There is no distinction in disrespecting black women. It’s not acceptable for anyone to use vulgar and disparaging remarks when addressing black women.”

    Hip Hop Calling Women Bitches and Ho’s

    Some segments of hip hop music calling women bitches and ho’s is old hat, yet it is not less painful. In these videos it is rare to see Black women portrayed as anything other than lap dancers and strippers. The visual and lyrical disrespect of black women has been a hot debate topic for the last two years, culminating into shows and articles like; the CNN coverage – “Hip-hop portrayal of women protested,” the CNN: “Hip-Hop is it Art or Poison?,” The Essence Magazine “Take Back the Music Campaign,” and the BET NEWS Presents “HIP HOP vs. AMERICA, a Powerful 3-Part Special Addressing the Current State of Hip-Hop,” and the “Oprah Show Town Hall,” where a panel of experts discussed the issue, opening up about racism and the denigration, marginalization and sexual exploitation of women.

    Rappers are feeling the heat and feel the need to explain themselves. Rappers such as Snoop and some of his peers have admittedly called women bitches and ho’s in their lyrics, but in the MTV article by Shaheem Reid, with reporting by Rahman Dukes called “Snoop Says Rappers And Imus Are ''Two Separate Things,” he quotes Snoop as explaining that there is no parallel to what Imus said:

    “It’s a completely different scenario,” said Snoop, barking over the phone from a hotel room in L.A. “[Rappers] are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports. We’re talking about ho’s that’s in the ‘hood that ain’t doing sh–-, that’s trying to get a n—a for his money. These are two separate things. First of all, we ain’t no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC going hard on black girls. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel. I will not let them mutha—-as say we in the same league as him.”

    Nelly, who has received a lot of criticism for “Tip Drill,” says that he respects women and that he is not a misogynist.

    “I’m an artist. Hip-hop videos are art and entertainment…As for how women are shown in the videos, I don’t have a problem with it because it is entertainment…. Women are in the videos by choice. No one knows what a particular woman’s situation is, what her goals are. Being in that video may help her further those goals. Several women who have been in my videos have gone on to do TV appearances and movies. No one can dictate other people’s choices and situations.”

    Realities set aside, perhaps rappers like these could help women further their goals by portraying less dancers and strippers and reflect more of the diversity of Black women. Women have choices but please show the different aspects of women, not just the sexualized, booty-shaking one. Black Women are more than that. Many of the women in the videos are women who are merely seeking acceptance, appreciation and value in a society that affords them none of that. Many are marginalized, poor and desperate. It would be nice if these same rappers offered them opportunities but did not compromise their dignity and respect.

    Rappers Who Do Not Call Women Bitches and Ho’s

    Black women love Hip hop music. Hip Hop music itself is NOT the culprit. As Yvonne Bynoe author of two books: “Stand & Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture” and the “Encyclopedia of Rap and Hip Hop Culture” puts it:

    “The main focus of this brouhaha is not hip hop or rap, but the commercially successful subset of these genres that has transformed the public image of Black Women from flygirls to bitches, tricks, ''hos and chickenheads. This is the same sector of hip hop that has mainstreamed stripper culture, reduced the value of women to their body parts and mocked the importance of love.”

    Yet not all hip hop artistes disrespect Black women with their lyrics. There are legions of rappers who do not subscribe to the disrespect of black women, however they don’t get listened to as much as the ones who spew multimillion-selling misogynistic lyrics. They don’t sell as much. In her article, “Keeping it in the family: Eminem is under fire for denigrating Black Women. That’s the job of Black Rappers,” Helen Kolawole, published in The Guardian on Monday November 24, 2003, she writes:

    “There are also male rappers, such as Mos Def and Common, who resist dick-swinging bravado. But, as the feminist critic Bell Hooks points out: ‘Mass media pays little attention to those Black men who are opposing phallocentrism, misogyny and sexism… Alternative, progressive Black male voices in rap or cinema receive little attention - their voices are not celebrated in patriarchal culture.”

    Black Women Fed Up of the Disrespect

    Black women and many black men have had enough of the name-calling and disrespect. They are tired, fed up and angry. Is it any wonder? Many Black women are well-educated, well-spoken, talented, well-raised, ballerinas, writers, artists, business owners, doctors, engineers, lawyers and homeowners, who are also hardworking, sensual, beautiful, faithful, loving, intelligent and creative. What they hate is how they are portrayed and disrespected in the media and in real life. Being portrayed primarily as gold diggers, highly-sexualized, cheap and strippers is an injustice to Black women.

    Yvonne Bynoe in her article “Rappers and Oprah: Rappers Aren''t Feeling Oprah''s Love: Should Oprah reserve the right to refuse some of the foulest-mouthed, woman-bashing rappers to be on her show?” reported that in early 2004, Motivational Education Entertainment (MEE), a Philadelphia communications firm, released a nationwide study of 2,000 “urban” teens. She maintains that:

    “The authors of the study concluded that, overall, the teens in their survey believed Black females are valued by no one. The vast majority of the teens received their perceptions about life from the rap they regularly consumed. The study states that one of the most relevant changes in the hip hop generation (from their civil rights and Black power movement predecessors) is an open disdain for Black Women.”

    Point in case. The psychological and emotional effects of these demeaning images and the constant disrespect of Black women cannot be positive. It sends a disconcerting, detrimental message to the youth in the Black community. It cannot help but detrimentally influence the psyche of Black women, men and impressionable children. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X did not die for the right for Black women to be called bitches and ho’s.

    Enough of the Disrespect!

    Dr. Melody McCloud who has served as a media consultant and contributor, providing medical advice and commentary to numerous network and cable television outlets—CNN and others; also radio programs and/or publications and is publicly outspoken about the negative imagery of Black women says:

    “We''ve gone from ‘My Cherie Amour’ to “bitch, ho, slut and whore.” This is unacceptable. This must stop. ……Denigrating and disrespecting Black women is not a sport…Black boys need to… learn to speak to girls and women respectfully. And Black girls/women need to stop allowing men to speak to them in any which way and again, stop participating in disrespectful deeds…”

    Dr. McCloud could not have said it better. Black women are mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, and friends who want to be loved, valued, respected and appreciated. Let’s stop the disrespect. Let’s stop the name-calling. Let’s learn to respect each other. Let’s unite to create a better and more respectful image of the Black woman.


    Jane Musoke-Nteyafas is a Columnist with AfroToronto.com. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    "There is no greater beauty than the real you."
    Jane Musoke-Nteyafas
    Arts/Literature/Entertainment Columnist
    http://www.afrotoronto.com | http://www.ugpulse.com

  • Diary of a Tired Black Man


    Incendiary Melodrama Examining Tensions between Brothers and Sisters Arrives on DVD

    In recent years, numerous revenge-themed Hollywood adventures have seemed to take a certain delight in portraying black men as unreliable womanizers undeserving of any respect, like the sort of losers always airing their dirty linen any day of the week on The Jerry Springer Show. From Waiting to Exhale to Two Can Play That Game to Diary of a Mad Black Woman,these female empowerment flicks have generally left brothers not only browbeaten but in need of an image overhaul. Now, help has arrived in Diary of a Tired Black Man, a fascinating half-documentary-half melodrama from the very talented Tim Alexander.

    At the point of departure, we find James’ (Jimmy Jean-Louis) being dogged by his ex-wife (Paula Lema) and her Amen chorus of self-righteous girlfriends because he arrived to pick up his daughter with the white woman he’s currently dating. Without reacting to their verbal attack, he calmly pauses to let them know that he had been, and still is, an excellent, if unappreciated provider.

    Rather than continue with the rest of his modern morality play, at this juncture the ingenious director came up with a brilliant cinematic device which only heightens the already palpable tension. He freezes the action here and periodically throughout the story for revealing man-in-the-street interviews featuring fan reaction to the couple’s heated exchange.

    So, essentially half of what we see is an intriguing documentary of everyday folks from all walks of life weighing-in on the battle-of-the-sexes. And those remarks, ranging from the profane to the profound and from the silly to the sobering, prove to be every bit as telling as the film’s fictional front story.

    For instance, a young woman quick to question whether there are any good black men out there refers to the married guy she dated for two years as “typical “and an “effed-up, trifling-ass Negro.” Yet, when asked why she even entered such an ill-fated, illicit liaison in the first place, her only answer is that she “fell in love,” leaving the audience to conclude that she’s just as much to blame for her lot in life as all the black men she’s just dissed.

    Overall, the movie does tend to come down harder on females than on males, even though it doesn’t let brothers off the hook entirely. Cleverly-edited to keep the audience on the edge of its seat, the movie flits back and forth between frank dialogue and the riveting tug-of-war between James and Tanya.

    With both the factual and fictional parts of the picture equally absorbing, anticipate feeling emotionally drained in the end, yet also inspired to discuss the degree of dysfunction permeating African-American relationships. While Tim Alexander is quick to say that “Diary of a Tired Black Man is not a movie, it’s a message,” I found it so thoroughly entertaining that it obviously must be both.

    Excellent (4 stars)
    Running time: 108 minutes
    Studio: ScreenTime Films

    To purchase a copy of the DVD, visit: http://www.tiredblackman.com/

  • On My Mind: A Charitable Spirit

    Columnist pic

    Are you someone that has a Charitable Spirit? Are you able to say no to people? Do you feel that you always have to jump in and save the day? Does your faith make it even more difficult for you to turn things down, or not want to help people?

    I have this problem and it has only become clear to me recently. I learned how to say no many years ago, after suffering from burn out on more than one occasion from taking too many projects on. However, recently, I noticed that I want to help people and sometimes too much. This wanting to help has lead to these situations: Taking on a contract that only paid me a fraction of what I was worth, putting myself out there with a potential partner and jeopardizing a contact I have with an important organization, and it caused me to say yes to a young person who wanted to do a project with me at a most inopportune time.

    Normally, I don’t even notice my patterns but because I was working on a huge project that took up most of my time and energy…I was able to really notice these things. Why did I take these outside projects on?

    When you are focused on a project or a production and working long hours to complete it one of the last things you should be doing is trying to save the world. I don’t know where this comes from. For some perhaps it’s an innate desire to be liked or needed… for me I think it’s this desire to save people, and to find anyway possible to help them.

    I have always been a communicator, perhaps sometimes an over communicator, and I claim this. I always check up on people, to make sure they are okay, invite people over for dinner, and to be honest this is not something that is reciprocated. As a matter a fact in seven years of living here only three people have ever invited me to their homes that have been invited to my humble abode for dinner. I have cooked for many people… I enjoy cooking to be honest and I really enjoy cooking for other people… but this year, I did not do it at all. This is not to say I will never cook for anyone again, I will still hold my thank you dinners, for people who helped me on projects, but I stopped trying to rescue people.

    So, I am working on curbing my Charitable Spirit. This does not mean I am not going to help people anymore because that is part of my nature. But, it does mean that I am going to stop and think when a youth asks me to do a project, that I don’t only take it on because they are a youth… that I make sure that I can give 100% and that I am not sacrificing, sleep, some type of compensation, and other projects because I feel the need to save the world.

    I am learning to set boundaries for myself…and this is not an easy process.

    Now they say life begins at 40, and I am months away from that landmark, and I am noticing that as I get closer to it I am getting clearer about my boundaries and being honest about my feelings. Being honest comes with a price, but I like the price. I think it’s so much better to say: “I am not willing to do this anymore; it is not a healthy way of working.”  “I am sorry, I thought I could help you, but your lack of input to this project, means that I will not be able to continue”  “I am sorry but I am very busy with another project, so unless you can compensate me for my time, I will not be able to create that presentation for you”

    See, I am learning to set boundaries to look not only at my self worth, but to be self aware. And you can say those phrases… repeat after me “I am sorry but I am unavailable at this time.”  You can do it… come on the more you say it the easier it gets.

    Just writing this column was difficult for me this morning, I have been thinking about this for weeks… after a very difficult phone call with a project that I should never have taken on. I know there have to be other people out there who are dealing with this situation. I can’t be the only one… am I?

    This morning having a Charitable Spirit was on my mind…and after reading this I hope you understand why.


    Anne-Marie Woods is a Columnist with AfroToronto.com

  • Pimps Up, Ho's Down

    Book cover

    Book Review: Pimps Up, Ho's Down: Hip Hop's Hold on Young Black Women

    by T. Sharpley-Whiting (Author)

    “I believe we have reached a fascinating, and predictably retrogressive, moment in American pop culture regarding class, gender, and race. As a member of the Hip-Hop Generation, I am continually intrigued by the ways in which hip-hop sets the tone for how women, myself included, think and act...

    This is not a book that chronicles rap lyrics and sexism. That line of inquiry has been vigorously pursued and will continue to be a touchstone for dialogue about hip-hop generation men and misogyny… Rather Pimps Up, Ho's Down aims to cast the net wider and deeper…

    The book addresses the male-dominated culture of hip-hop and the various ways in which young black women connect with that culture… I recognize that the madness visited upon Hip-Hop Generation black women comes as much from their own communities as from without.

    Sexual vilence, sexism, beat-downs, sexual dishonesty, anti-lesbianism, and the legacy of color prejudice all hammer away at self esteem… This book attempts to explicate where hip-hop culture contributes to these distinctly female difficulties.”

    - Excerpted from the Prologue (pg. xviii)

    Author picture

    In the wake of Don Imus being fired for his insensitive comments about black women in the months past, there have been renewed complaints in certain African-American circles about gangsta rap for its similar demeaning depictions of females. Therefore, you probably couldn’t ask for a more timely release of a book than Pimps Up, Ho's Down: Hip Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women by T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting.

    Its author, a model-turned-professor and director of the African-American and Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt University, not only has her finger on the pulse, but shares a cornucopia of novel insights here. Most folks are already familiar with the well-aired complaints about hip-hop by such monitors of American culture as Stanley Crouch and Bill O’Reilly. What makes Ms. Sharpley-Whiting unique is not only that she’s a black female but that she admits to being conflicted as a fan of the controversial genre.

    Capable of dissecting the subject from the inside out and from a variety of angles, she serves up a string of salient insights in the process, such as when echoing Imus’ self-defense that gansta’ rap is merely a reflection of generally-accepted values. “Hip-hop culture is no more or less violent and sexist than other American cultural products,” she argues. “However, it is more dubiously highlighted by the media as the source of violent misogyny in American youth culture.”

    Highly recommended as a seminal tome likely to usher in a promising new era of honest intellectual debate about the imminent head-on collision between hip-hop and emerging, black feminist thinking.

  • Elizabeth: The Sanitized Version


    One of the most highly anticipated films to have its world premiere at the 32nd annual Toronto International Film Festival this year was Indian-born director Shekhar Kapur's follow-up to his 1998 critically acclaimed film, Elizabeth. About a decade later, Shakur returns with Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

    Actress Cate Blanchett reprises her role as Elizabeth I and is joined by Clive Owen in the role of the famed English explorer, poet, writer and courtier Sir Walter Raleigh.

    As I sit at the inaugural press screening of this epic film last Sunday morning, I am wondering how or whether director Shekhar Kapur would tackle, or dance around, the issue of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. I thought it unlikely that a film exploring the Golden Age of Queen Elizabeth I would not explore England's forays into the New World.

    Sure enough, we find in the character played by Clive Owen, Sir Walter Raleigh, a dashing adventurer who charms Queen Elizabeth with his magnificent stories of reaching land after a long period of time basking in the sheer immensity of the ocean. There, he would found England's first colony, Virginia, in honour of the Virgin Queen.

    As one of the journalists at the film''s press conference at Sutton Place Hotel later that morning would say: "This is a very sexy film. Extremely sexy." It was indeed evident that director Shekhar Kapur was more concerned about bringing sexy back to the story of Queen Elizabeth I's Golden Age than actually being historically accurate. Speaking about his choice to cast the hunky Clive Owen in the role of Sir Walter Raleigh, Kapur says:

    "Raleigh was free. Raleigh was uncontrollable. Raleigh was sexy. Raleigh was timeless. Raleigh was a pirate. Raleigh has certain aspects that I knew needed and actor that could represent all of them. He wasn't just macho. He wasn't just a man who came in to beat everybody up. He was a man who actually represented a man's masculinity. Essential masculinity. And that was Clive."

    Early on in the press conference, I had an foreshadowing of the defense line maintained by the people behind the film regarding its historical inaccuracies. Oscar-winning actor, Geoffrey Rush, who plays the role of Sir Francis Walsingham in the film, was quick to point out that he doesn't "have any time for people who say this is historically inaccurate." He adds: "it's about metaphor and not documented evidence being presented [and] clinically laid out academically. We have libraries for that. But having said that, I think this film is very true to the broad issues of this particular phase of the historical Elizabeth's life."

    But with any historical epics, the filmmakers should have the responsibility to respect some very basic tenets of historical accuracy. Elizabeth: The Golden Age fails miserably to do so; particularly with its deliberately misleading portrayal of Clive Owen's character, the historical figure of Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618).

    In the film, Sir Walter Raleigh is depicted as a fearless explorer and pirate who terrorizes enemy Spanish ships at sea. He brings back the fruits of his looting to Queen Elizabeth I. There's an evident desire in the film to show him as being the courageous, unconventional and dauntless soul who offers Elizabeth a glimpse into a life she longs for but could never attain. In director Shakhar Kapur’s vision, Raleigh valiantly comes to the rescue of Queen and Country against the menacing Spanish Armada in a great naval battle that saved Queen Elizabeth I's rule in 1588.

    While there was indeed a historical Sir Walter Raleigh who had gained the special favour of Queen Elizabeth I, and even her much-heralded love and affection, he was mostly known as a poet, explorer and lover of the arts rather than as a feared pirate and warrior. In fact, he did not even fight in the decisive battle against the Spanish Armada in 1588. The extent of Sir Raleigh's contributions to this pivotal British naval victory against the Spanish was providing England with an 800-ton ship, “The Royal Ark”, in exchange for an IOU of £5,000. That ship was chosen to lead the attack against the Spanish Armada.

    But Sir Walter Raleigh was never on that ship. In fact, even Britain’s National Maritime Museum states it clearly:

    Did Walter Ralegh fight against the Spanish Armada?

    Walter Ralegh was interested in seamanship and navigation. With his new wealth he built a warship which he named the Ark Ralegh. He later gave this to the Queen who changed the name to the Ark Royal. This ship later became the flagship of the English fleet which fought against the Spanish Armada under the command of Lord Howard of Effingham. Although Walter Ralegh did not command a ship, he was a naval adviser to the Queen and helped Sir John Hawkins to implement improvements to the design of ships, an important factor in the success of the English fleet against the Spanish.

    So who was that fearless pirate who inspired Elizabeth: The Golden Age’s director Shakhar Kapur and who was instrumental in the film as defeating the Spanish Armada? His name was Sir Francis Drake, an infamous pirate and slave-trader whom the Spanish called "El Draque" (the Dragon).

    Sir Francis Drake, born (1542-1596), was a contemporary of Sir Walter Raleigh and also one of Queen Elizabeth I’s most notorious pirates. He was a cousin of the reputed slaver Sir John Hawkins. Together, they made the first English slave-trading expeditions under the blessing of Queen Elizabeth I. The British royal family had major connections with the trade of enslaved Africans from the time of Elizabeth I. The initials “DY” (Duke of York) were branded on hundreds of enslaved Africans bound for the Caribbean.

    One of the major reasons for Sir Francis Drake’s hatred of the Spanish and his relentless desire for revenge stems from an episode in 1567. During one of his expeditions to New Spain (Mexico), the Spaniards captured a cargo of enslaved Africans on one of Her Majesty’s slaving ships. Hostilities immediately flared between Spain and England afterwards.

    There is a climactic scene in Elizabeth: The Golden Age where Clive Owen’s character, supposedly Sir Walter Raleigh, has the brilliant idea of setting British ships on fire and unleashing them towards the anchored ships of the Armada in order to scatter the Spanish fleet. Historians credit Sir Francis Drake with that exploit. However, Shakhar Kapur unabashedly usurps that episode from Sir Francis Drake’s life and puts it in the hands of Sir Walter Raleigh in his film; while in actual fact Sir Raleigh was safe on land – just in case history is of any significance here.

    It’s no mystery why Shakhar Kapur would have chosen to make Sir Walter Raleigh more appealing by only selecting the “sexy” attributes of Sir Francis Drake’s life and persona and conveniently electing to bypass the whole slavery issue in his film. Or maybe he had Sir Francis Drake in mind at the outset and decided to sanitize him by labeling him in the film as a poet, and romantic renaissance man. Only her knows that.

    The fact remains that despite repeated references to the British colonies in the New World and Trans-Atlantic voyages, not “once” does the film mention the barbaric Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade of enslaved Africans perpetrated by the British.

    So I decided to raise the issue at the press conference for the film during the festival to see what Shakhar Kapur would have to say.

    After giving a sarcastic “thumbs up” to my mentioning to him that this year marks the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Stave Trade in the British Empire, he first tries to justify the lack of references to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in his film with “budgetary concerns” of all things.

    He goes on to say to me that Sir Walter Raleigh was not so much a pirate as a “businessman pirate” who owned different kinds of ships. Kapur claims that he “didn't consciously put him (Clive Owen) in the role of Drake.” He adds that the Sir Walter Raleigh from his film “was a true renaissance man. He wasn't Drake. Drake was a man dedicated to the sea and power. And Raleigh was far greater than that.”

    In his final argument, Shakar Kapur tells the press in the room that if we read about Walter Raleigh, we will realize that Sir Raleigh “was executed because the Spanish saw him as the greatest threat. Ultimately one of the reasons why a treaty was signed between Spain and England and one of the conditions was that Walter Raleigh would be executed. So you understand how much the Spanish hated him.”

    Again, this is very misleading.

    In the year 1616, long after Queen Elizabeth I had died in 1603, Sir Walter Raleigh was released from jail in the Tower of London (after having been put there in 1603 by King James under suspicions of treason) in order to lead an expedition to Venezuela in search of El Dorado. While there, his men sacked the Spanish outpost of San Thome on the Orinoco. “That’s” why the Spaniards demanded that Sir Walter Raleigh be executed. Not because of some revisionist and fictional act of bravery against the Armada in 1588.

    Those who “don’t have time for historical accuracy” should not pretend to make historical epics.

    I highly recommend Elizabeth: The Golden Age for those interested in Clive Owen’s pecs. Otherwise, please take it with a giant medieval block of salt.


    Meres J. Weche is one of the founders of AfroToronto.com. He is also a Resource Person to the Committee for the Ontario Bicentenary Committee on the Abolition of the Slave Trade. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    Click here to view the “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival

    Related article by same author: The Dictatorship of Remembrance

    "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" opens in theatres on October 12th, 2007:

    See trailer

    Official site 

  • On My Mind: Got to keep moving!

    On September 18th 2005, while dancing at the infamous Kwame Young’s party, I had my last dance to old school. I have choreographed and been in musicals, and for anyone who knows me they know that I love dancing and music. That was the night that changed my life.

    Imagine needing your knees for your livelihood, but finding out that you not only have a torn meniscus but that both of your ACL’s (major ligaments in the knee) are torn, and that you have arthritis as well. “It’s not so bad, it’s not so bad” my surgeon kept saying, when I got the final results of another MRI after my scope on my left knee “It’s not so bad.”  I asked him, “Will I ever be able to dance again?”  he said “Oh no no dancing and no funny stuff”  I am not sure what funny stuff is but the point is that I now have to be careful everyday. There is replacement surgery for the ACL but he says what I have in there now is good enough.  So, I have had to change my life. I spent about a year on crutches or a cane, because now that I was injured I could no longer audition and I had to look for full time work.

    It’s amazing the survival instinct that kicks in when something is wrong… there are two approaches you can take, you can be upset and cry everyday or keep movin! I have decided to keep moving. I cried though, oh believe me I cried.

    The clarity that can come to you when you are forced to be still and one of your natural abilities has been taken away.  For instance, I now know exactly what I will pursue career wise and though I have had to modify things creatively it’s actually been a positive experience for me.

    After spending so much time on crutches or with a cane, I am just proud and happy to be able to walk again. I say that I am the happiest walker in Canada. I can’t do stairs properly, and can’t walk long distances, because my knees get very sore for at least a few days after… then there was the week I decided to kneel at the alter at church. (Remember the commercial I’ve fallen and I can’t get up), well I knelt down and was like uh will I be able to get up?  I did get up but my knees suffered for two weeks. So now during the alter call, I stand.  Basically, I have had to completely modify my lifestyle.  I no longer audition for theatre, but I started a creative consulting company where I can help others create, and perform… and I still have my spoken word, where I can emote on stage and don’t have to worry about a lot of movement. I have my health, my hands my toes and a body that works.  I have learned to count my blessings even more than I had before. And I have learned to keep moving. You see, no matter what happens to us, sometimes it’s an illness, or an injury, sometimes it’s circumstances that happen in our family or disappointments with our friends, but the long and the short is that we have to keep moving. We have to find a way to focus on the positive and keep moving through the hard times, pain, trials and tribulations. We have to think about the things we are still able to do and not give up on life or living. Our time here is short, so find a way to Keep Moving, we’ve got to Keep Moving.

    This morning as I was getting ready to go the gym, where I can no longer work out the way I used to, I thought about what I can no longer do, and realized, that was the wrong attitude because  I have  to KEEP MOVING!

  • Bacardi gets wild with graffiti

    Bacardi Campaign

    Bacardi and Graffiti art not an obvious partnership, however, with both their emphasis on innovation as a common thread they worked together in highlighting street art and celebrating the launch of Bacardi Superior Rum Elixir. The Graffiti Alive installation is the first Graffiti showcase put on by Bacardi Superior Rum Elixir.

    Graffiti or street art has been around for quite some time, but is commonly represented as the lesser known staple of hip-hop culture, as one of the four main elements along with the Mcing, DJing, and Breaking.

    cently, Bacardi’s Graffiti Alive competition put a bright spotlight on this art form with a live Graffiti Installation running over a 2 day period.  Gathering crowds watched as the Fox and the Fiddle’s North wall was used as a blank canvas, by some of Toronto’s most talented Graffiti artist. They came together to first compete and then collaborate on 27 by 17 foot mural of Bacardi Superior Rum.

    The competition began with Graffiti artist from around the city, each having a half hour to give their version of the Bacardi Superior Rum Elixir. However, this was not well received by a few of the artist.  Certainly time constraints are not uncommon to Graffiti artist. Lets face it making your mark on public property can be, restrictive. But, the space limitation as well as material restrictions placed upon the artists were not boundaries they were expecting.

    Many expressed frustration over a lack of creativity. One veteran graffiti artist Duro, explained it as such “it’s like writing a resume in 10 words for these artist.”

    The first round produced work that was adequate but not quality Graffiti. A few artist were understandably disgruntled, obviously torn about  making some cash versus selling out or allowing corporate types to hijack their culture.  Angel said it best “ I, hustle for the cash, they hustle for the flava”

    And yes, Bacardi certainly got flavour, with a mish mash of styles and motifs all within the confines of the Bacardi logo while showcasing each artist’s unique talent. According to the organizers of the event the completed mural would continue with the explosive elements of the current Bacardi Superior Rum advertising campaign.

    Each artist wanted their piece to stand out  therefore each piece exploded with colour and where design were restricted they tried their best to bring out individuality with edgier tags.
    In the end, despite initial clashes of corporate and artistic interest, eight deserving artist were picked to complete the mural at the Fox and the Fiddle. The image now on the wall  is of a towering bottle bursting forth with Bacardi Elixir, a representation of a photo from the advertising campaign.

    The mural represents Bacardi’s vibrant and experimental nature says Brand manager Lisa Jazwinski but it also represents the evolution of Graffiti Art. Corporate interest in Graffiti may be an indication of how relevant the art from still is despite its lack of prominence. Bacardi’s Graffiti Alive competition proves just how much life, passion and creativity goes into street art.

  • Desiree Marshall: The genius behind Afrodelik Designs

    Afrodelik article picture

    I attended the Toronto Naturals Hair and Beauty show in late May, and I must say that I had a great time. It wasn’t just the information that I received about natural hair care products that I appreciated, it’s that I found, after years of searching, the most perfect t-shirt!

    As I walked around the room soaking up all the culture, I saw tons of vendors selling their products. But there was one thing that stood out for me.  Being a self-proclaimed “funkdafied chick,” I am drawn to anything that oozes a cool 70s vibe.  When I spotted the cutest t-shirt with a character that looked like she was straight out of a blaxploitation film, I had to get a closer look.

    I ran up to the rather friendly girl who was selling the t-shirts and asked where I could find more of the fashions. She said that the company is Afrodelik and she was the designer.  She also informed me that she currently only sold them at events.  Surprised, I told her that I not only wanted to get my swagger on in her t-shirts; I wanted to share her talents with all of Toronto.  I proceeded to ask her if I could interview her and she graciously accepted.

    We met in a quaint restaurant in Little Italy and talked and talked like we knew each other for years. We both love all things 70s, we both shun anything with a logo, and we are both a bit chatty.

    What I found out about Desiree Marshall is that she’s a free spirit who chooses to not only create great looking t-shirts, she wants to provide us with a history lesson as well.

    When did you start drawing?

    I actually started drawing when I was ten years old.  My brother was a great artist and I was really impressed with the things that he could do.  It kinda made me think of my creative side, so I decided to try drawing and I realized that I loved it.  I used to draw Disney characters—goofy, Mickey Mouse.  

    As I got older I started drawing these caricatures.  I did some of Run DMC, Tracy Chapman, Prince—all of the people that I really loved.

    When did you start designing t-shirts?

    In my early 20s I started thinking about starting a t-shirt company because I thought that it was the best way for me to express my art.  It was fun and I wanted to do something that was fun.

    I would use puffy paint to draw the characters on the t-shirts.  Once the t-shirts were done I would just keep them.  I never wore or sold the t-shirts.  I would show them to my parents and sister and brother, and then hang them in my closet.  I still have them.

    I took a little break from drawing and I worked as a customer service rep.  On my lunch I would draw. I would use their paper to draw my characters and use their photocopy machine.  I was constantly drawing while I was doing my job.

    When I drew the caricatures of the celebrities I was told that I needed permission to reproduce them on t-shirts.  And then I thought, “I could actually create my own characters!”  So I spent a while creating my own characters.

    During this time I had an art book that someone had given me, and I started drawing these characters.  That’s what I did when I got home from work.  I would draw and draw.  I loved it! I drew everyday until I filled the book.  I saw this progression in my art work.  I was like, wow!  It went from these really bad caricatures to something that actually looked like it could be sold.

    What motivated you to start your own line?

    I registered the name and I started doing my t-shirts, but actually instead of painting them by hand, I drew them by hand and took them to a screen printer.    I thought that it was a great product, but I still didn’t sell them! I would wear them, but not sell them.  I thought of it as a hobby, not as a true business.  For me I think that it was kinda scary to start a business.  Even though I registered the name, I thought that I would start the company later.

    When did it become a legitimate business?

    In November 2006

    How did it evolve from a hobby to a business?

    I lost my job in March 2006.  I was a video editor for a TV broadcasting company and I seriously couldn’t wait to get my ass outta there! But I didn’t have the courage to leave.  So I kinda asked for it. I used to go to work like I didn’t want to be there.  I gave off that energy to the Universe, so I eventually got laid off.  Even though it was a sad day, deep, deep, deep, down I was very happy.  I thought that it was the opportunity for me to do what I want, so I applied for this government program.  It’s a one year program and it teaches you how to start your own business. I’ve been doing it since September 2006.  I’m still in it and I have a mentor.

    The other great thing that happened was on my last day of class, I had to do a presentation in front of 5 business people that I never met before.  They give you feedback on your presentation.  This one woman……I knew she connected to what I was saying.  She gave me her business card at the end of my presentation.  She called me the next day and said that she was doing this program on TV about life coaching and she wanted to coach me through my business.  I was like, “thank you!”  It was a sign for me.  It made me feel that it was the right time to start my business.  I’m still filming it.
    How did you come up with the name?

    It took me about 6 months to come up with Afrodelik.  I’m a bit of a perfectionist.  I wanted something that fit me……fit me right.  A lot of the names I came up with had the word “Afro” in it.  I love the 70s era!  I love the coolness of it.  I could relate to those women.  I thought they were sexy and hot. I think the coolest women, to this day, were the ones with big afros.

    Was it important for you to do a line with an urban flair?

    Yep, because Afrodelik is not just clothing, it’s educational wearable art.  It educates people about my culture.  For me it was my education about myself.    Growing up I went to a French school and I didn’t have a lot of black people in my surroundings.  I didn’t learn anything about my history…nothing.

    When I started thinking about Afrodelik, I thought about doing it for kids. I wanted to at least help black children know about their history.  That’s why I do collections—the Afro City one is fun and funky, and the other one I do is called Africa.  In the Africa collection I feature African cultures . All of my tags have some information about each of the designs .    I’m here to educate the best way that I can which is through my art.  Whether it be humourous or serious, I feel like I have a job to educate people—kids and people outside my community. I want to make a difference in the world.

    How do you sell/promote your clothing?

    I finally have my website up and running. It’s www.afrodelik.com and you can purchase items from the website.  The e-commerce site will be available very soon, but you can still contact me via e-mail or by phone to purchase my products. I even make house/office calls. Since I’m just starting out, I sell my t-shirts at events. I try to find events, like Afrofest recently, that I feel would be a good fit for me.

    To promote my line, I gave a couple of t-shirts to P. Diddy, Amerie, Jill Scott, and just recently Eric Roberson and Meshell Ndegeocello.

    What are your plans for your line?

    I’m still in the beginning stages, but I don’t just want to stick with t-shirts. I love t-shirts and it’s the best way for me at this time to express my work, but I want to go to hoodies, caps.  I also want to go into a more sophisticated line.  I want to have my artwork on nice shirts using luxurious fabrics. I want it to be classy. The African collection is a bit more elegant and I can see it embroidered on fine fabrics.

    After speaking to Desiree for an hour and a half, I unfortunately had to wrap up the interview.  She was a pleasure to interview, but more importantly, I knew from the moment that I left the restaurant, that her company will be very successful.  You go, girl!

  • On My Mind

    I Can’t Afford to Work for Free

    I’ve been self employed for many years now as a performance artist and a freelancer. I have now taken the steps to be able to live solely from the services that my company provides and not have to do full time contracts for others. One of the major steps I took was graduating from the SEB program a self employment business program offered through HRDC. It was an amazing program and it enhanced many of the skills I already possessed, but also made me really look at my worth as a business woman.

    Over the years I have always been amazed at the amount of requests to do things for free, everything from performing, emceeing events to teaching workshops. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do a lot of volunteer hours for causes that I believe in, it’s a personal choice what projects I get involved with. Years ago when I sang with Four The Moment we used to get a tremendous amount of requests to perform at benefit concerts. We would meet once a year to decide on our concerts/tours for the year and we would agree to do three benefits a year.

    I remember when I was working full time at CBC radio, I got a call one day to create a piece and perform for an annual banquet. When I told the person my fee for creation and production he said “Oh you mean I have to pay you for what you do?” For some reason, I always remember that comment and it happened about 5 years ago. Being self employed means I spend about 12 – 15 hours a day developing programs, or packages for organizations, sending out e news letters, or developing project proposals, and doing cold calls and cold e mails and having meetings with potential clients. Out of all that hard work, I may land a few contracts each month. I am not sure people understand what it is like to be self employed and to work hard towards a future goal. On top of that I’m a performance artist, so the fact that I fuse business and artistry is a phenomenon that many don’t quite understand.

    Artists are what keep a society alive and vibrant. Cultural and artistic outlets are what help us maintain a healthier lifestyle. More and more people are discovering that arts and creative programming can also help our youth. But, when they need to cut a program or when they have budget cuts…unfortunately, usually the arts go first. For years I have heard people very close to me tell me that “artists are flighty” that I wouldn’t understand I don’t work full time, etc etc… I was just quiet while I received this negativity, I didn’t feel it was worth my time or energy to explain how hard I work. Or that not all artists are the same. I do work full time, as a matter a fact I put in more hours than most people who work 9-5. Also I started out working 9-5 in the not for profit sector, and have often done full time projects over the past 20 years but when it all boils down to it I prefer to work for myself.

    Working for yourself and having that entrepreneurial spirit requires, hard work, dedication, commitment, strong self esteem, a strong business sense, thick skin, and so many attributes I cannot list all of them today, or that will take up the entire column. What this means though is that with the amount of time and effort we put into creating a project or workshop or landing a contract, does not allow us much time to work for free.

    Very much like my singing group I do three pro bono projects a year. I also provide discounts because many not for profit organizations and schools cannot afford my rates, but any true business person knows that if you continuously do business or provide your services for free, you cannot get ahead. Just yesterday I called a good friend who ran his business by doing work for free and giving his friends discounts, his business was closed down, and he’s been struggling ever since. I told him that if I ever get to the point that I can invest in his work, that I will but he can’t do things for free anymore; not to the point of his company’s demise.

    When I host events I often need volunteers for that night or if I have performers I will try to give them an honorarium. If I hold an event with volunteers, I will give some sort of perk i.e., media attention, their bio in a professional program, and promotion of their companies or their arts background. Most of my artist friends and I have a barter system where we will help one another out, in exchange for services or a hook up… we will hook each other up; so to speak.

    This month I have received about seven requests to teach for free, and I have had to turn them all down. I just cant’ afford to volunteer my time. I recently spent about 10 hours developing a piece to present at an event, and I didn’t even feel appreciated for the hard work that I put into my presentation. So that’s another thing if you ask an artist to develop something for you, get them a thank you card, take the time to read their bio, or promote them, in some way, that will make them feel good for volunteering their services.

    I can remember Ricardo McRae doing a fundraiser in Toronto, when I was fairly new to the city and yes, he asked me to volunteer, but he did it the right way. All artists had promotion prior to and during the event, he had a green room set up for us with food and water and refreshments. Though I was a volunteer for a great cause, I also felt appreciated. Last weekend I volunteered my services for another event, and they gave me a certificate of appreciation. See, those gestures make you feel good about volunteering.

    So today working for free was on my mind, and though I will continue to volunteer my time and services to causes that are important, or even at times to aid in marketing and networking for my business. The long and short of it is that to be a successful business woman, I just can’t afford to work for free.

  • Morgan Freeman: The "Evan Almighty" Interview

    Born on June 1, 1937 in Memphis, Tennessee, Morgan Freeman is keeping extraordinarily busy for an academy Award-winner who has recently turned 70. The peripatetic septuagenarian has numerous upcoming films on the docket, including the three being released later this year, The Feast of Love, The Last Full Measure, and Gone, Baby, Gone, a murder mystery which will mark Ben Affleck’s directorial debut.

    In 2008, he’ll be co-starring with Jack Nicholson in The Bucket List, a Rob Reiner road comedy about a couple of terminally-ill patients who make a break from the cancer ward. In Wanted, he’ll play an assassin in an action adventure along with Angelina Jolie and Common. In The Dark Knight, a sequel to Batman Begins slated for a blockbuster release next summer, he’ll rejoin an ensemble cast comprised of Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Eric Roberts, Aaron Eckhart and Gary Oldman. And he’s already attached to rendezvous with Rama, an adaptation of the sci-fi best seller by Arthur C. Clarke.

    Here, he talks a bit about his current flick, Evan Almighty, where he’s reprising his role as God.

    KW: Did you have any second thoughts about agreeing to play God?

    MF: I got the feeling a long time ago, that eventually someone was going to come up to me and say, “We want you to play this role.” I wondered, “What am I going to do?” If it was a straight role, I wouldn’t do it, pure and simple.

    KW: Do you enjoy working with Tom Shadyac as a director.

    MF: My coming back to it has everything to do with the filmmaker. I really like Tom’s head… the way he thinks… what he thinks… what he does… and what he’s attempting to say. I want to say the same thing, so we usually wind up on the same page.

    KW: How would you describe his directorial style?

    MF: I’m not that keen on being directed. If you give me a part, I gotta assume that you think I’ll do it, rather than be a conduit. However, Tom has a way of infusing his direction with… he’s like, “Try it for me.” It’s like, “Okay, I’m going to do you a favor.” Also, generally, he’s on. He knows exactly what he sees and what he wants, which is very helpful. Playing this role, I might have a tendency to get too serious. So, one of his constant reminders to me was. “Just keep it light,” which was really right.

    KW: What’s the significance of god’s inspiring random acts of kindness in this picture?

    MF: The idea is that a random act of kindness will lead to another and another and an exponential spreading. It’s like, I will do something good for you, and because of that, your belief in human generosity and interaction grows. So, you may not do anything for me… you may never even see me again, but you’ll be more than willing to perform an act of kindness for someone else, if you see a need. And that just keeps moving.

    KW: How was it co-starring opposite Steve Carell?

    MF: He’s a professional. By professional, I mean not only is he good at his craft, but he’s dedicated to it. And he himself is a terrific human being. I find that’s very prevalent in this business. Most of the people I worked with, 99.999% of them are just that… terrific people… lovely to work with.

    KW: You seem as enthusiastic as ever about acting.

    MF: I always have a great time working. I so enjoy doing it. People say, “You’re going to work.” And I think, “No, the work is in looking for work.” After you get it, you’re just going to play. So, these are situations where I’m just having a great time, and hoping that everybody around me is having just as wonderful a time.

  • The Dictatorship of Remembrance

    Why the Westminster Bells Did Not Ring At Notre Dame

    “The central tenant of the commemorations is focused around european actions, gradually resolving european inactions by european politicians.”
    - Toyin Agbetu, “Jesus Says Sorry: The Anatomy of a Political Apology for Slavery” p.16 - The Ligali Organisation, February 2006

    “As we understand it, Plato’s “reason” is the denial of spirit. Reason functions to control the more “base appetites” and “instincts.” The European view of the human being begins to take shape here. It is a view that was to grow more dominant through centuries of European development and that was to become more and more oppressive in contemporary Western European society, where there is no alternative view offered. For Plato, self-mastery, like justice in the State, is achieved when reason controls.”
    - Marimba Ani, Yurugu: An African-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior, p. 32.

    This year marks the 200th Anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. On March 25th 1807, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act received royal ascent (became law). It is conservatively estimated that between the fifteen and the nineteenth century, 12 million enslaved Africans we forcibly taken across the Atlantic ocean in slavers ships to toil in plantation fields in the Americas. Three million of those enslaved African perished during the course of the infamous Middle Passage.

    Much of the bicentenary’s commemoration has been focused around the celebrated British abolitionist William Wilberforce (1759-1833). A parliamentarian hailing from a wealthy British merchant family from Kingston-upon-Hull, Wilberforce began meeting with a group of a dozen men in 1787 inside a London printing shop with the goal of ending slavery throughout the British Empire. But while Wilberforce eventually succeeded in getting the Slave Trade Act passed in the House of Commons in 1807, slavers ships kept marauding the Western coast of Africa for several years until the Emancipation Bill of 1833.

    But even then, the shackles would not be loosened.

    After being granted a compensation of £20 million in government bonds ($2.2 billion in today’s term) [source: Adam Hochschild (2005) Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves], the plantation owners were allowed to keep their enslaved Africans as “apprentices” forced to work for no wages for their masters for up to six years. Then, on August 1st, 1838, the estimated 800,000 African men, women and children across the Empire were officially freed.

    Guess who’s coming to Mass

    Fast forward to March 25th, 2007 at London’s Westminster Abbey, where William Wilberforce is buried. The scene is the official Bicentenary commemoration ceremony of the 1807 Slave Trade Act attended by the Queen of England, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Church of England officials, and hundreds of Britain’s high society.

    As the audience was being led into prayer for the confession and absolution of their sins, Toyin Agbetu, 39, a reporter and a campaigner for Ligali, an African-British human rights organisation, rose up in protest. In front of a stunned audience, he began shouting: "This is an insult to us." Turning his attention to the Queen and Tony Blair, he demanded that Britain apologise for the shame and injustice that the British Transatlantic Slave Trade was. He also condemned the African Christians present for taking part in the ceremony and urged them to walk out.


    Much has been written in the months since Mr Agbetu’s headlining protest. But much than a mere PR bombshell, Mr Agbetu’s outburst tore at the very fabric of what continues to be an essentially Eurocentric bicentenary commemoration year.

    In a paper that Toyin Agbetu wrote over a year ago entitled “Jesus Says Sorry: The Anatomy of a Political Apology for Slavery” through his organization, Ligali, Agbetu declares:

    “We will not support and will actively campaign against any commemorative events themed around the actions of a eurocentric abolitionist movement until:

    • The British government and church make a formal apology for their leading role in the institutionalisation of the forced enslavement and commercial exploitation of African people.

    • The British government and church recognises and sanctions local government support for a national African Remembrance day (currently marked in August) incorporating a national call for three minutes silence at 3pm.”

    From Subject to Agent: The Power to Define Reality

    As the quotes at the beginning of this article from Toyin Agbetu and author Marimba Ani delineate, the struggle facing those committed to the proper commemoration of the millions of enslaved Africans who suffered through the Transatlantic Slave Trade is clear. It is to ensure that African people are seen as agents, rather than subjects, in their own fight for freedom. As Afrocentric scholar Molefi Kete Asante points out:

    “Afrocentricity liberates the African by establishing agency as the key concept for freedom. I am most free when I am most active on the basis of my own volition. Even if I am active and believe myself to be free under the will of another, I am not truly liberated. … Furthermore, the opening of the cultural discourse to the topic of African agency pushed through the conception of African people as subject rather than object in the European experience. For the non-African, the Afrocentric idea positions intellectual discourse in the African agency that is often denied by Eurocentric conceptualizations of our roles.”
    - Molefi Kete Ansante, The Afrocentric Idea. pp.21-22

    What Toyin Agbetu was basically protesting at Westminster Abbey was the complete lack of recognition of the essential role that African people have played in the struggle for their own liberation. The disproportionate focus of the bicentenary’s commemorations on the role of William Wilberforce completely negates and devalues, for instance, the pivotal influence of the Haitian revolution of 1791-1804 in bringing about the end of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

    The problem with any historiography is that it is often told and written by the victor, or at least by those with the power to define the prevailing paradigm.

    The enduring mythology of that fateful day in 1787, under an old tree near Croydon, England (as portrayed in the 2006 film Amazing Grace) when the young Prime Minister to be William Pitt convinces the evangelical Wilberforce to lead the anti-slavery movement – as being the defining moment in the eventual freedom of enslaved Africans is an entirely Eurocentric pillar.

    Even John Ralston Saul, in his book Voltaire’s Bastards, clearly warns against the Western tendency to rationalize history through self-interested reason:

    “It is a general weakness of men delivering ideas that they are able to convince themselves their words represent a break with the past and a new beginning. In the early stages of a revolution, history is at its most malleable. Disorder and optimism combine to wipe out those truths artificially manufactured by the preceding regime. At the same time, they usually wipe out the memory of any inconvenient real events.”
    - John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards (The Dictatorship of Reason in the West).p.38

    What commentators often fail to point out is that William Wilberforce was a staunch evangelical conservative who was very aware, and protective, of his privileged rank in British society. He was “against increasing the tiny number of Britons with the right to vote … and dismayed by members of the lower classes or women who questioned their assigned places in the social order.” [Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains, p.124]. Thus, it is questionable that Wilberforce would have been particularly sympathetic to the kind of anti-clerical liberation of African people happening in Hispagnola (Haiti) at the time or as eager to fight for social justice for the newly freed Africans.

    Where were the bells at Notre Dame de Paris in 2004?

    In his written declaration cited earlier, Toyin Agbetu refers precisely to the need for the British government to recognize a national African Remembrance day in August. Not a single European nation heeded UNESCO’s call to recognise August 23rd as the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. The date of August 23rd commemorates the landmark 1791 Haitian revolt of enslaved Africans against the French slavers. As Agbetu reports, while the British government allotted tens of millions of pounds to mark Wilberfest, a mere sum of £5,000 was granted to an inter-ethnic community organization towards commemorative events between 23 and 29 August, 2004.

    The Haitian Revolution lasted from August 23rd 1791 to January 1st 1804. The catalyst for the revolution was a particular Vodou ceremony in August 1791 performed at Bois Caïman by a charismatic spiritual figure known as Boukman. They slit the throat of a pig, drank its blood and swore death to all French colonials. After 13 years of bloody rebellion, on January 1st, 1804, the leader or the first Black republic in modern history, Jean-Jacque Dessalines, gathered the people around him at the city of Gonaïve’s Place D’Armes and declared that Haïtians were now a free people. The revolution in Haiti inspired many other enslaved Africans’ uprisings throughout the Spanish possessions, other Caribbean nations and in Louisiana. The Haitian Revolution can even be credited for the Louisiana Purchase in April of 1803 since the French, aware of their loosening grip on the Caribbean, saw less of an interest in struggling to keep Louisiana.

    Every January 1st , while most people celebrate New Year’s Day, Haitians around the world traditionally enjoy and share amongst them a pumpkin soup called “soup joumou” in Kreyol. During the slavery days in Haiti, only the French colonists could enjoy this delicious soup. The enslaved Africans, for their part, had to make due with bread soup. So symbolically, on January 1st 1804, in the city of Gonaïves, Dessalines ensured that a huge supply of soup joumou was available for everyone present to enjoy. It was also a sign of unity.

    The real significance and impact of the Haitian Revolution is that it was conceived, carried out, and assumed entirely by enslaved Africans. The European powers were not the catalysts nor the agents of change. As a result, the new nation has been isolated and the subject of scorn and prejudice by the world ever since.

    In 1825, Haiti was even forced to pay reparations to France for the losses of its slaveholders to the tune of 90 million gold francs (a value of $21 billion USD today). For a hundred years, Haiti had to pay monetarily for its own independence.

    It is therefore little wonder that, on the bicentenary of Haiti’s successful enslaved peoples’ revolt in 2004, the French government did not have a lavish ceremony in Notre Dame cathedral in Paris to commemorate. This freedom fight had not been waged on their own terms. Europe was not the agent of change.

    As we observe the Bicentenary of the British Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, let us be mindful that Haitian Revolution marked the first time in that era when “whites saw a slave revolt so massive they could not suppress it, and for the first time blacks saw that it was possible to fight for their freedom and win.” (Hochschild, Bury the Chains).

    In commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, The Canadian Association of Black Journalists presents: Toyin Agbetu, the political activist who shouted down the Queen and Prime Minister Tony Blair during Britain''s bicentenary service, in conversation with Toronto Star Columnist Royson James.

    Thursday July 5th, 7pm
    Oakham House - 55 Gould St.
    Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
    Admission: $15
    FREE to CABJ members.

  • Laila Ali: The Daddy’s Girl Interview

    Laila Ali was born in Miami Beach on December 30th, 1977 to Muhammad Ali and his third wife, Veronica Porche. The most famous of The Greatest’s nine children, Laila’s the only one to follow in his footsteps into the boxing ring, On her way to the top, the statuesque, 5’10”, 175 lb. cruiserweight

    whupped Jackie Frazier, daughter of Joe, in the first Pay-Per-View fight featuring females in the main event.

    She hoped to have a showdown with George Foreman’s undefeated daughter Freeda who retired suddenly after taking a pounding from another pugilist in the first loss of her career. Laila currently reigns as the women’s world title holder, having compiled an impressive 24-0 record, including 21

    With no credible challengers left, she opted to try something completely different type, ABC-TV’s Dancing with the Stars. She and her partner, Maklim Chmerkovskiy received a perfect score for their rumba, and came in third overall in the popular series’ competition. All the national attention led to recognition of Laila’s feminine side, and she was recently named to People Magazine’s 100 Most Beautiful List for 2007.

    The accomplished 29 year-old, now completely out of her father’s shadow, is also the author of a motivational book entitled “Reach!” She often makes public appearances as an inspirational speaker before young women in need of a role model.

    Laila is currently engaged to former NFL star Curtis Conway, and the loving couple has plans to marry in Los Angeles next month. She is the subject of the documentary, Daddy’s Girl, a documentary about her life which will air on TV One on Father’s Day, June 17th, at 8PM.

    KW: Hi, Laila. The first thing I have to ask you is, did you know that your dad was here in Princeton a few days ago?

    LA: No, I had no idea. I’m just so busy.

    KW: They’re calling him Dr. Ali, now, because he was awarded an honorary degree from the University at graduation.

    LA: Oh wow, that’s cool!

    KW: I met him twice before. The first time was way before you were born, back in 1967. He was training in Manhattan for the Zora Folley fight. A teacher who knew I was a fan took me to see him work out. Muhammad’s sparring partner at the time was future champ Jimmy Ellis, and we watched them go a couple of rounds. And while I was there, another future champ, Joe Frazier, who was up and coming but not very well known at the time, came in, loudly demanding a title fight. Ali talked some trash, leaned over the ropes and snapped Smokin’ Joe’s suspenders, asking him what made him think he could put up a good fight, which made everybody there laugh. The other time was in the early Eighties in Beverly Hills when he was driving a Rolls Royce convertible down Rodeo Drive. All the pedestrians on the street started chanting Ali, Bomaye! [meaning “Ali, kill him!” This was the phrase that the people of Zaire chanted while he was training for and again during the George Foreman fight.]

    LA: Oh, I just loved that car.

    KW: Why did you decide to make the bio-pic Daddy’s Girl?

    LA: Well, it wasn’t my idea. Reggie Bythewood was the producer. It was his baby. He pitched the idea to me. I didn’t really know what was going to come of it, as far as how it was going to turn out. He started doing the footage and following me around, and I’m happy with the way it came out.

    KW: This is pretty honest documentary. In fact it opens up with you saying, “My father may have been the greatest boxer, but he definitely wasn’t the greatest father.”

    LA: Well, I don’t think that I necessarily would have chosen to start it out that way.

    KW: Oh, that’s the way it was edited.

    LA: Exactly, but people have to understand that, to me, that’s not a negative statement. Obviously, it sounds like it is, but there are a lot of parents out there who wish they would have done things differently. And, like I said, my dad would probably be one of the first ones to say that.

    KW: Yet, you still followed in his career footsteps. Did you think that you were going to be a boxer while you were growing up?

    LA: No, though I’d always been an aggressive person, and had a competitive spirit. I saw women’s boxing on television for the first time when I was 18, and that’s when I wanted to do it. So, it didn’t come from me watching my father. I didn’t know the sport existed; therefore, I wasn’t really interested in it until I saw it.

    KW: Do you think there might be something genetic about your interest, since Freeda Foreman and Jackie Frazier, daughters of George and Joe, became boxers?

    LA: You also had Archie Moore’s daughter in the sport before I was, Ingemar Johansson’s daughter, and Roberto Duran’s granddaughter. So, it’s the same as with anything else. There are women, and there are men, who are just going to happen to want to fight, though I think my having some success in my career definitely forced the issue with some of the other girls. But I’m the only one now who’s still fighting. I guess they tried it, and it didn’t work, or there was something they didn’t like about it. So, they moved on, and I’m the only one that actually has had any staying power and became a world champion.

    KW: You’re the undefeated world champion, 24 and 0, is it time to move on and parlay that success into something else?

    LA: Well, I definitely reached my goals, and unfortunately, it’s left a void in how I feel about my career, because it wasn’t as challenging as I would have liked it to have been on the way up, as you saw in the documentary. It would be very difficult to continue to train hard and remain motivated after some of the situations I ended up in. I never intended to box forever, and always planned to move on to do other things. So, I’m pretty much where I thought I’d be right now, undefeated and a world champion.

    KW: How about your sister Hana? Think she might enter the ring?

    LA: [Laughs} No. None of my siblings have an interest in boxing. I’m the only one.

    KW: You have also done some time in jail, which makes me think of Paris Hilton, because usually people from a prominent family figure out a way to avoid ending up behind bars.

    LA: I definitely wouldn’t compare myself to Paris Hilton.

    KW: Do you want to talk about your case?

    LA: When I was 15, I hung out with some girls who were shoplifters, and I decided to do it myself, even though I had money in my pocket. And I got in trouble. I spent time in a juvenile hall. I think a lot of people try that but don’t get caught. I happened to get caught. You might have just found that out, but that information is not new. I’m the one who pretty much put that out there years ago about myself.

    KW: Why so?

    LA: Because, for me, it’s the only way to talk to other girls, and to try to help them. I actually wrote a book about my upbringing and what I’ve been through. It was just something that I did. I believe everything happens for a reason, and I’m going to use it in a positive way. That’s why

    KW: How did you enjoy doing Dancing with the Stars?

    LA: It was a nice change for me, to do something glamorous, but challenging. I had a lot of fun doing it.

    KW: It must have been a lot different from getting hit in the ring. You must have hated that part of being a boxer?

    LA: I think it’s just that you’re not a boxer. Anyone who’s not a fighter would say that, whether you’re a man or a woman. It’s hard for me try to explain to a non-boxer that it’s a sport. It’s part of a game in which you don’t want to get hit. Obviously, when I get hit, it doesn’t feel the same as it would for you to get hit. That question continues to be asked over and over again, and I’m sorry, but I really don’t have an answer for it.

    KW: That’s okay. What was it like being raised by such successful parents? Afterall, you’re dad was The Greatest and your mother was an accomplished equestrian in her own right. Did you feel pressure to succeed, too?

    LA: I don’t feel pressure. I just grew up around people who had a lot of confidence and drive, and I have the same. Any pressure on me comes from myself.

    KW: What advice do you have for anybody who wants to follow in your footsteps?

    LA: Don’t do it! No, I’m joking. I don’t really try to tell people whether they should fight. It’s definitely not for everybody. I think that if you do want to be a fighter, then you need to work harder than everybody else, and make sure that you surround yourself with good people, especially if you’re a woman. You’ve got to find a team that takes you seriously as a female fighter, and is not going to rush you into the ring before you’re ready.

    KW: Laila, thanks for the time, and congratulations to you and Curtis on your upcoming wedding.

    LA: I appreciate that. Thank you.

  • On My Mind: The Telephone

    Now many of you may wonder, just why the telephone is on my mind this week. To be honest it’s been on my mind a lot lately, but primarily since my move to Toronto six years ago. Now this could be a huge generalization about this very large Metropolis city, but it seems that people here don’t like to communicate on the telephone; they seem to prefer inhuman contact via e mail rather than a good old shoot the breeze, how’s the weather conversation. Okay you got me, I do like to talk. But, in that way I am old fashioned. I prefer good old fashioned communication. (Yes, I still have dial up). Some people laugh because I use dial up, but hearing the various problems associated with having wireless accounts I am proud to have my dial up. (Okay okay I just graduated to a CD player a few years ago). Don’t tell anyone but I tried to hang on to that cassette walkman as long as I could before it got embarrassing at the gym. I finally bought a CD walkman and of course now people have ipods, and before that mp3’s I figure by the time I make that investment people will have a microchip attached to their ear. I do however, own a cell phone, and I recently upgraded to a flip phone; imagine that!

    I still write letters, I admit my penmanship is not the best because of the many years of creating scripts, proposals and other projects on the computer. But, I found a great font that expresses what I think I could write like, if my penmanship were great and I use that. I still send Christmas cards in the mail; those I actually write in and sign by hand. I mail thank you cards to friends or to clients. I write letters to family and friends, and yes I post them with a stamp. I am not saying that I never use e mail to communicate, but I really do prefer old fashion modes of communication, when it comes to friends or family or things that are important. (Okay okay you got me again, I uh still have floppy diskettes).

    And now back to the telephone. I have a few friends, some new, some who moved to Toronto recently and I have noticed a trend. They never call me to say hello, they will e mail me to ask how I’m doing or what’s going on with me; and it makes me very uncomfortable. If you are a friend, a true friend, how hard is it to just pick up the phone even once a month and dial a number. In the past few weeks I have completed a life changing course, I have become drastically ill, and I had to deal with the anniversary of my sister’s passing. Do any of these so called friends know this? No. The funniest person is the one who always writes me saying that they’d like to meet up sometime. But, how can we meet up if you never call me? I have also tried to call them, but they never pick up the phone and are never available. So, there you have it: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. I was told by them that they are not a phone person. I on the other hand, don’t understand friendship via internet communication unless you live in another area code; for which I have a great solution, because I also have a very good long distance phone plan (smiling).

    So, maybe I have missed something as I grew older, maybe back in the day my friends never liked to talk on the phone but they had no alternatives. Is it just me? Or is synthetic communication a problem for anyone else?

    Today, home very ill, with no one calling me to see if I was all right. (Except my family who I called long distance to let them know and the two friends in Toronto who actually answered their phones)… the telephone was on my mind.

  • The Revolution Will Not Be Funded

    “Many white-led social justice non-profits proclaim, in everything from their mission statements to their funding proposals, that they are committed to improving the social and economic conditions of the oppressed communities in which they operate. But… the white leadership of the progressive philanthropy movement actually protects white wealth and undermines the work of oppressed communities of color… They act as brokers between the capital and the oppressed people of color who were exploited to create it...

    They simply help [the rich] manage their money- and assuage their guilt for having wealth accrued from the stolen and exploited labor of people of color… More specifically, white people become more invested in protecting white wealth than in advancing oppressed people of color’s movements to reclaim and redistribute wealth.”

    Excerpted from Chapter 5, “The Filth on Philanthropy”

    Have you ever wondered why poverty persists in America, despite the existence of so many incredibly wealthy charitable organizations, some of which boast billion-dollar endowments? For instance, after Hurricane Katrina, non-profit corporations undoubtedly benefited from a fund-raising bonanza, given that the entire country had been moved to open their wallets by the failure of FEMA and every other federal and state agency to respond to the disaster effectively.

    Yet, here it is over 20 months later, and the poorest folks from the Gulf region remain unable to return to their homes and are probably permanently dislocated. To get a clue as to understanding the woeful performance of philanthropies, may I suggest The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex.

    This anthology of revealing essays was edited by Incite!, a collective also known as Women of Color against Violence. This incendiary tome brilliantly blows the covers off the non-profit racket, indicting it as being in bed with a power elite whose primary interest is in maintaining the status quo.

    As proof, the authors point out that in 1955 charitable giving totaled just $7.7 billion, but by 1998 (the last year that such statistics were compiled) that figure had risen to $175 billion. One of the unintended consequences of this generosity is that foundations now strategically direct how their grants get disbursed, which means that most money is allocated with strings attached.

    Apparently, some charities even masquerade as progressive while pushing an arch-conservative agenda, such as The Rockefeller Foundation which has been misleading in its supposed effort to fight world hunger started 30 years ago when there were less than a million starving people on the planet. According to this eye-opening opus, the Foundation’s true mission was to control political insurgency and population growth.

    The upshot is that today there over 800 million people who go to sleep hungry daily, and the book blames the Rockefellers for using contributions to bankroll a “massive global restructuring of agriculture” which “destroyed the livelihoods of millions of farmers and villagers that had been in existence for hundreds of years.”

    The Revolution Will Not Be Funded indicates that “critical to the success” of such schemes is the deliberate “use of people of color as endorsers of these tactics.” In sum, the sisters behind this enlightening expose’ earn high marks for compiling a critical inquiry into an unregulated industry long-presumed to be dedicated to the public interest, which unfortunately, more often than not, ostensibly functions as a pawn of big business and the ruling class.


    The Revolution Will Not Be Funded:
    Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex
    Edited by Incite! Women of Color against Violence
    South End Press
    272 pages
    ISBN: 0-89608-766-8

  • Twilight Café Brings Home Drama

    Sarah and Stanley have two kids, two lives and an explosive history that comes between them at every turn, forcing out the present.  From the moment Sarah steps into Stanley’s Twilight Café, visiting Trinidad from her new home in New York, the first domino is felled which sets off a chain reaction of reliving and revisiting.  The visit evokes poltergeists of the past to possess the two participants with old questions and powerful cultural dynamics.

    In Twilight Café, Tony Hall’s writing is at once conversational and poetic, exposing the internal passion of personal history along with the external weight of all their baggage – all of our baggage, because the conflicts are all too familiar.  The playwright recognizes the destructive potential in ‘playing along’ without resolving deep seated issues whether in politics or personal life.  Perhaps the relevance of the experience he depicts explains Hall’s ability to engage audiences on the street, the stage, the radio and in lecture halls.

    The Jouvay Popular Theatre Process, developed by Tony Hall through his work at the Lord Street Theatre in Trinidad, uses the ritual and imagery of carnival, and invests it with the gravity of the artform’s political, spiritual and cultural roots, quite aside from its perceived function as a celebratory rite.  The carnival tradition is connected with archetypes in folklore, with resistance and with the history of calypso music itself, as deftly explored in Jean and Dinah... Who Have Been Locked Away in a World Famous Calypso Since 1956 Speak Their Minds Publicly, which Hall co-wrote with Rhoma Spencer and Susan Sandiford. The JPTP method incorporates some of carnival’s recognizable elements into the process of creation and production, including masquerade, improvisation and rhythm.  But he also goes deeper to invoke “ the secret, subterranean, survival strategies of the emancipation traditions.”

    The story in Twilight Café is cyclical, exemplary of the repetitive pattern of human interactions it is illustrating.  From the premise of a nuclear family with conventional breadwinner/housekeeper roles, the stability of that household balance is threatened and what follows is a deconstruction of the parts that make up this whole.  The breadwinner/housekeeper are and have been husband/wife-father/mother-son/daughter, the impact of each experience echoing through the next.  Each of the performers takes on the challenge of traversing shifting sands, as the story trips across various masculine and feminine social prototypes and their attendant inconsistencies.

    The cast of this production are well equipped to manage the range required by their various roles. David Collins (The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God, The Sheep and The Whale) and Raven Dauda (Da Kink in My Hair, She Never Bought Me an Easy Bake Oven) play characters walking a tightrope between vulnerability and volatility which makes for a taut atmosphere.

    Twilight Café won five Cacique awards for theatre in Trinidad and Tobago, (outstanding actress, set design, lighting design, sound design and original script).

    Donna-Michelle St. Bernard is a Freelance Contributor for AfroToronto.com. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    TWILIGHT CAFÉ [The Last Breakfast]

    by Tony Hall
    Directed by Rhoma Spencer
    Featuring: David Collins &Raven Dauda
    Set, Costumes and Props: Julia Tribe
    Sound Design: Nicholas Murray
    Lighting Design: Michelle Ramsay

    The Great Hall Downstairs (formerlyThe Theatre Centre)
    1087 Queen Street West (At Dovercourt)

    Time: Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00pm Sundays @ 2:00pm

    Tickets will be available at T.O. Tix on the web www.totix.ca, by phone at 1-888-222-6608, in person at the T.O. Tix booth at Yonge and Dundas Square or 1 hour before showtime at the door.

    With Twilight Café,Theatre Archipelago builds on three years of creating theatre from the Caribbean Diaspora.  Artistic Director Rhoma Spencer has brought stories from the islands to North American stages as a playwright, director, actor and stand-up comic, always from the company’s “no boundaries” stance.

  • On My Mind: Rock Bottom

    There is something about hitting Rock Bottom that gives you clarity in life. Now to me I’ve been to that place a few times before. You know the place; you can’t pay your bills, nothing seems to be working out, you don’t feel secure about anything, finances, your future, and life in general. Yes, I have been to this place before, they call it the Valley…well I have rolled around in the valley gathering rocks and stones and some dirt and I have the bruises to prove it. I found out that due to my knee injury I can no longer run or dance, which translates to no more theatre or film work for me, because the movements of my knee are now very limited. Theatre and performing is a huge part of my life. My degree is in theatre, I’ve done countless plays, and I used to choreograph and I just love dancing. But, that part of my life will now have to be put on a shelf.

    Back in January of this year I sat in the Rebecca Cohn Arts Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia with three other women I sang with for twelve and a half years. In another part of my life I sang in an Acapella quartet called Four The Moment, we toured all across Canada at various folk festivals and music festivals and we even sang in Germany, New York Lincoln Centre and at the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival. In 2003 we reunited to open up for Dr. Maya Angelou for the second time in Toronto at the Sky Dome Theatre. That part of my life seems so far away now, 1988 – 2000. So, there I am sitting in the concert hall being honoured for my work of activism through song. This was supposed to be an amazing feeling a great feeling, but I didn’t feel great, as a matter a fact I sat there in a daze feeling somewhat upset by the event. While at the Cohn, they showed footage of all of our contributions to the Nova Scotian community through a short video of vignettes of our lives on stage and working in various communities. There I was on the screen with the young women in my theatre company that I ran from 1996-1998. They also had footage of me singing with various bad hair styles from the 80’s to the 90’s. As I sat there however, I continued to feel worse. Then, they called our group to the stage; we talked a bit and sang a short medley of our tunes. Just prior to that moment we watched the Nova Scotia Mass Choir, do amazing arrangements of our music. It all seemed surreal to me, I was up there singing to a hall with at least 1000 people in it, and I didn’t feel excited, I just felt overwhelmed and unhappy. Then during intermission I went out into the crowd to find my family and ended up feeling like Brangelina (Brad Pit and Angelina Jolie). People wanted to take pictures everyone was calling my name, and I couldn’t find my family in the crowd. The evening ended and Shauntay, who used to be in my theatre company, came up to me and said… “Anne-Marie without you, there’d be no me,” which made me immediately burst into tears. I had no idea what was wrong, why I felt so upset, I was convinced I was just overwhelmed by having lived long enough to be honored for work in a community I no longer lived in.

    I went back to my hotel and continued to be upset the next day and for the entire period of my two week stay in Nova Scotia. I made a journal entry trying to decipher just what on earth was wrong with me. It was about a month later that I determine I was feeling displaced. Going back to Nova Scotia symbolized who I was through all of the contributions I made to youth and in to the community, but I have outgrown my life there. Living in Toronto, I just didn’t feel satisfied with the societal things I deal with here. So, I felt displaced, not belonging anywhere. My Employment Insurance had come to an end, I had only one school booking for February, and after a conversation with a close friend of mine, I decided I was leaving Toronto; out of here, see ya, au revoir, bye bye, no more, aloha. The only problem was I had nowhere to go.

    So, as I often do in my apartment I just yelled out to God… “okay God, I’m done here, (bad grammar I know but I was home okay) okay God I’m done here, I will go to Japan for a year and teach English, pay off all my debts, and come back in a year’s time and work on my education degree. God are you listening? I will just leave. All these things I have are material they can be replaced, you tell me what to do. Then I said God I will give my notice for my apartment on March 1 st and leave Toronto the end of April.” I said all of that out loud to him cried a bit but just turned it all over to God because I was sick and tired of struggling and I just felt like things weren’t coming together for me in the right way.

    What’s interesting about being in that state of mind is that I was serious, ask anyone I talked to over that two week period … I was ready to go (again for the 100 th time). On Sunday February 18 th , I had an epiphany while talking to my cousin Gale (who I am convinced is my Muse) I came up with this amazing idea to start a Creative Consulting company. I was telling her how I was sick of struggling, and how I was hooked up to so many people, organizations and even industries, but for some reason I couldn’t seem to get ahead. I jotted down my idea for this company while talking to her and venting my frustrations.

    Long story short or short story long; once I had the clarity of starting this company I began to get calls to teach and do workshops with different community based groups in the GTA. The month of March where previously I had no work was now fully booked. Hmm. Next, on Monday February, 26 th , I received an arts grant that I applied for in November. Other positive things started to happen. I actually made enough money in the month of March to cover all of my rent and bills, and I ironically had nothing booked for the month of April or May. On March 28 th , I found out that I got into the self employment program I had applied for. So for the last two weeks I have been in an accelerated business course learning everything about business, marketing research, social styles in business, computer applications, you name it I am learning it all from well established entrepreneurs.

    My life has completely changed in a two month period. I went from being displaced and struggling to having income support for a year and perfecting the skills and business sense I have had for many years. I am happy, I am not leaving Toronto (at least not right now) and I know my company will be a success. When people see me now, they notice a difference in me and they ask me “did you read the Secret” and I tell them “no, but I have faith and I believe in God and that’s no Secret”. Apparently, I had to hit rock bottom. I was willing to leave my apartment and my home that I’ve known for the last six years, sell everything and go to Japan. I was not content, and I really had no idea what was in store for me. Now I feel truly happy and blessed and I can’t remember the last time I felt this way. In church we learn to turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones. And I believe that’s what happened to me, I was rolling around in the valley and now I am step step stepping (bad knees and all) up towards mountain top and forward into my future.

    So today hitting Rock Bottom was On My Mind, but tomorrow is always a better day.

  • Don Imus

    There Must Still Be Something Out of Kilter

    “That's some nappy-headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that now, man [laughing], that's some... woo!”
    - Don Imus describing the Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team, 2007

    “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman?

    Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

    Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ''twixt the Negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon.”
    -- Sojourner Truth at a Women's Rights Convention, 1851

    Make no mistake, Don Imus knew exactly what he was doing and to whom when he and his creepy cohorts chose to belittle the achievements, to question the femininity, and to smear the reputations of the members of Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team. He picked on them because he figured he could get away with it, as usual, because they were black, because they were female, because they were powerless, and because they were defenseless and ostensibly without the political clout to hold him accountable for the venomous, vituperative attack, no matter how baseless or profane.

    Had Imus disparaged females from, say, a predominantly Jewish basketball team as “hooked-nosed Hebe hos” before going on and on about how masculine and unattractive they were and comparing them to dinosaurs and grizzly bears, there would be no need for me to write this article, and no ongoing debate about whether or not he should be fired, because network execs would have yanked him out of the studio and handed him his walking papers on the spot. Despite Imus’ claim that he’s an “equal opportunity offender,” both he and his on-air sidekicks are well aware of the unwritten rules as to which gender and ethnic groups it’s acceptable for them to ridicule.

    The Imus Show already had a disgraceful history of demonstrating insensitivity specifically towards black women prior to this incident, such as the occasion on which the host referred to PBS-TV nightly news anchor Gwen Ifill as a “cleaning lady.” Then there was the time that his sports reporter, Sid Rosenberg, suggested that tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams were better suited to appear on the cover of National Geographic than Playboy.

    So, it’s no surprise that Rosenberg, an admitted crackhead, was again one of the willing participants in Imus’ latest lame, white male-bonding opportunity at the expense of the dignity of these innocent, highly-accomplished African-American females. Also chiming in with approval was executive producer James McGuirk who called them “jigaboos.” The only more insulting slur I can think of is the N-word. The message this inveterate racist Imus is so fond of delivering is that no matter what odds black women manage to overcome in a society which undervalues them by design, he is always ready to remind them of this country’s color-coded caste system by resorting to inflammatory, offensive stereotypes.

    Curiously, he showed surprisingly-little remorse while defending himself in a transparently-phony non-apology during which he instead went on the offensive. "I may be a white man, but I know that... young black women all through that society are demeaned and disparaged and disrespected... by their own black men and that they are called that name," he arrogantly asserted.

    I don’t know what bizarro world Imus is talking about, because I have never referred to any black woman as a “ho,” and I have never witnessed any other black man doing so, except in movies and music videos. Thus, it is very telling that Imus is apparently citing as the source of the inspiration for his callous remarks gangsta rap and blaxpoitation flicks which most African-American males routinely complain about but have no control over their mass marketing.

    By contrast, consider the fact that Michael Jackson was successfully pressured to recall a CD containing the anti-Semitic invectives “Jew me, sue me” and “Kick me, kike me,” and to re-shoot its video and to re-release the song with different lyrics. Just because blacks do not enjoy the same sort of leverage as entertainment executives, does not mean that African-Americans endorse the misogyny running rampant in rap and the rest of the entertainment media.

    Rather, the mercenary aspect of crapitalism is at fault, as it allows the almighty dollar to set the programming agenda. Never forget, this is a culture which exploits the human condition for profit.

    The Rutgers women shouldn’t expect much to come from their meeting with Imus, except for maybe more salt in their fresh wounds. Unfortunately, productive communication can’t occur until both parties to the conversation respect and understand each other. Impatient to get his job back, Imus is likely to approach them in a results-oriented fashion. They, on the other hand, as soulful spiritual folk, will undoubtedly be process-oriented and content only if they can somehow connect heart-to-heart.

    Despite his millions of listeners, Imus has already proven himself to be woefully out of touch with the pulse of the country, isolated and hopelessly adrift on an anti-intellectual ice floe without a moral compass. Isn’t it obvious that at the dawn of a historic era when the nation sits poised perhaps to elect either its first black or first woman president, there is absolutely no reason why this bigoted, over-opinionated Neanderthal should ever be behind a coast-to-coast microphone again, let alone consulted to participate in the discussion of the indefensible words which ought to bring down the curtain on his career?

    Either it’s ovah for Imus, or, as sister Sojourner Truth said so many years ago, there must still be something out of kilter.

  • A Winter Tale

    An Interview with Frances-Anne Solomon

    Frances-Anne Solomon (left) with ReelWorld Film Festival founder Tonya Lee Williams

    This week marks the launch of the 7th Annual ReelWorld Film Festival. Opening on Wednesday, April 11th, 2007 and running through Sunday, April 15 th, this year’s festival will feature 66 films from 13 countries, 8 world premieres, 2 international premieres, 34 Canadian premieres, 15 headline feature films, 6 French language titles, 26 documentaries, and 41 shorts. The opening film of this year’s ReelWorld Festival is director and producer Frances-Anne Solomon’s A Winter Tale.

    A poignant drama taking place in Toronto’s Parkdale working-class neighbourhood, A Winter Tale examines the aftermath of the tragic shooting of a 9-year-old boy who falls victim to a bullet meant for a drug dealer. Frances-Anne Solomon endeavours to take us into a soul-searching examination of the root causes, and healing process, needed to tackle the problem of so-called Black-on-Black violence among Toronto’s Black youth.

    With a stellar ensemble cast helmed by veteran Canadian actors Peter Williams and Michael Miller, and Caribbean stars like actress Leonie Forbes of Jamaica and stand-up comic Dennis “Sprangalang” Hall from Trinidad, A Winter Tale promises to bring an authentically multi-layered narrative to the screen.

    AfroToronto.com recently had the opportunity to sit down with the hard-working Frances-Anne Solomon to gain some insight into the vision behind A Winter Tale.

    She began describing the very organic process behind the 4-year long journey to bring A Winter Tale to the big screen.

    “I began working on the project which is about the inner life of Black men in the city because, at the time (4 years ago), there was a lot of so-called black-on-black violence that was being reported in the media. Black men were being portrayed as being monsters. And I thought that it didn’t resemble anything that I knew, or the people that I knew. … What I was seeing in the press didn’t correspond with what I know of my community.”

    As Solomon goes on to explain, her project sought to look at these people, these characters, from inside rather than from the outside. The process demanded a lot of research. She began by interviewing about 25 young men in the community of different ages, income, class, occupation and background. That essentially formed the basis of the project. Many of these men talked about coming to Canada with high hopes. Some arrived in the sixties and seventies. While other younger immigrants came to these shores in the eighties and nineties. But the constant experience seemed to be towering difficulty to make their own opportunities or to find opportunities.

    Quoting Frances-Anne Solomon: “In a society that prides itself in being multicultural, there are a lot of barriers. Particularly, I found, for Black men. And that’s what they were talking about. But they were talking about it from a lot of different perspectives. … I wanted to put together a storyline that would interweave the stories of different men.”

    The interviews served to highlight the striking reality that, as Solomon indicates, “there’s a very high percentage of Black men who have been excluded by the education system and who have been criminalized from a very young age. And when you talk to these young men, there’s a confusion of feelings about what’s happening to them. They don’t really know what to do in order to find their way out of a kind of complex mesh of what is essentially systemic racism in this society.”

    As young Black men make up a very high percentage of the prison system’s population, there’s a perception that Black men are dangerous or bad.

    “So, a couple of the youth workers that I spoke to said that they felt that what would be useful would be a support group … that men need support. So setting up a support group for men where they would have an opportunity to talk about what was going on for them [would be beneficial]. To share their feelings about what was happening to them with other men would be a very useful thing. So that was the birth of the idea of the central character of Gene (played by Peter Williams) who’s a 40-something social worker who remembers his own father’s dream of coming to Canada during the Trudeau era when the doors opened and Canada was being called the land of opportunity. The just society. The dream of a just society” as Frances-Anne Solomon relates.

    So the character of Gene Wright falls back on the memory of his father’s dream and tries to set up a group where men in his Parkdale neighbourhood can come together and talk about their dreams and their frustrations. The idea of the Black men’s support group is the backbone of the story.

    To achieve that all-important sense of authenticity for the project, Solomon put out a call to actors in the community with the purpose of reflecting the multi-cultural reality of this country. She recalls how, in 2004, about 90 actors lined up around the street to audition for a half-day. “The place was packed. It was quite something. And of those people, I’d say that half of them were wonderful actors” as she recounts.

    After putting together a team of 14 actors, Solomon started sending them into the community to talk to people. She also encouraged them to share their own lived experiences with each other. As she goes on to explain:

    ”So they brought their own experiences of living in Canada to the development of their characters. And story workshops where we kind of built the story through improvisation. After the workshops, I would go and write. Put together the story and weave it together. And so it was a very organic process. Obviously, I had a story to start with, and I had an idea of the characters in my head based on my research. But once the actors came on board, they brought their own integrity, they brought their own language and so, little by little, we put together this framework of the script. Which is really built on the lived experiences of people in Canada. Both from a research point of view and also from the point of view of the participation of the actors.”

    Director's Bio

    Frances-Anne Solomon is a director, producer and writer in film, TV and new media. She is the founder and president of Leda Serene Films, and artistic director of its sister company, Caribbean Tales, a nonprofit company developing multimedia educational tools that draw on Caribbean heritage storytelling. She is an award-winning filmmaker, writer and producer whose credits as a writer/director include Lord Have Mercy! (VisionTV, 2003), Peggy Su!What My Mother Told Me (Channel 4, 1995) and Bideshi (British Film Institute, 1994). She is the President and Artistic Director of the two companies she founded, Leda Serene Films and CaribbeanTales and has also worked as a film and television producer for the BBC. (BBC Films, 1997), What My Mother Told Me (Channel 4, 1995) and Bideshi (British Film Institute, 1994). She is the President and Artistic Director of the two companies she founded, Leda Serene Films and CaribbeanTales and has also worked as a film and television producer for the BBC.


    For more information, visit www.ledaserene.ca, www.awintertale.ca, www.caribbeantales.ca, www.literaturealiveonline.ca

    A Winter Tale has been chosen to launch the 2007 ReelWorld Film Festival.

    Screening Dates, Times and Prices:

    80 Front Street East (@ Jarvis)

    Purchase advanced tickets on-line:

    Reel World Film Festival

  • Let My People Go

    I had the opportunity to attend Nathaniel Dett Chorale’s latest offering, Voices of the Diaspora: Let My People Go at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, George Weston Hall.  The evening commemorated the 200 th anniversary of the abolition of the Slave Trade in the British Empire (March 25, 1807).

    First allow me to confess, I still believe in magic.  You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.  Founder and Artistic Director Brainerd Blyden-Taylor welcomed us to the evening with the news that we were celebrating the Chorale’s 9 th birthday, calling it “a little dream that grew,” causing me to reflect on the niche this organization has carved out.

    They’re atypical to say the least.  The Nathaniel Dett Chorale are Canada’s first professional choral group dedicated to Afrocentric music, performing classical, spiritual, gospel, jazz folk and blues. The group of 21 world class vocalists have performed at events honouring Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Muhammad Ali, and is about empowering, building bridges and dissolving barriers.  I count five people I know in the lobby, four of whom I’m surprised to see here.  Then again, who exactly do you expect to see at a performance of African American music rendered in a classical form?  A survey of the audience spoke to the form’s broad appeal, bringing people of all ages and ethnicities out on this bitter cold night for the NDC experience, including a group of youth who met with the artists prior to the show.

    If you have ever been to a performance by this accomplished ensemble, I need not describe the little swell in my chest when we were asked to stand for the Black National Anthem.  The uncommon arrangement of Lift Every Voice and Sing that followed introduced us to the wide range and unconventional turns we could expect throughout the evening, as familiar words and melodies from the African American canon were expanded, exalted and elevated through the choir’s distinct collective voice.

    Equally unique treatments give Wade in the Water and Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel a feeling of familiarity and discovery at the same time; so much is happening within the technically complex framework that is also compelling on a purely emotional level. With their singular style and mandate, I sense that this balance has been key to the chorale’s longevity.

    Blyden-Taylor’s mark is indelibly written on the performances, which are as a whole both passionate and elegant. He speaks and conducts with a dignified, suppressed energy and supplies just enough contextual preamble to let us all in on the concept behind an oratorio without giving a lecture – a neat trick.  (It’s a musical composition for orchestra , vocal soloists and chorus , different from opera in that it does not have scenery, costumes, or acting and tends to have religious subject matter). The oratorio The Ordering of Moses, composed by R Nathaniel Dett, comprised the second half of the program.

    Choral pieces March of the Israelites and Go Down Moses raised me out of my seat like a plant bending towards the light of the sun, and while the chorus’s unified voice is a moving signature, there are some beautiful surprises that unfold dramatically.

    Melissa Davis is flawless in Listen to the Lambs, both a powerful voice and a commanding presence at centre stage. Alto Ali Garrison stands out all the way through the evening, embodying the soul projected through her voice, palpably living the sound.  In the oratorio, soprano Neema Bickersteth’s lead on Come let us praise Jehovah and tenor Larry Sowell’s heart rending Lord!  Who am I? absolutely shine at a point in the program when you think you’ve seen what everyone can do.

    The Nathaniel Dett Chorale’s success is clearly no fluke.  Its members, some of whom do not share the African heritage that informs the repertoire, share among them an impressive array of academic credentials and prestigious awards.  Their namesake, Nathaniel Dett, had a calling to preserve and disseminate music that carries a vital aspect of our culture, to allow these pieces to evolve and persevere.  For some audience members the evening recalled an aesthetic consistent with their Caribbean upbringing, infusing a colonial model with African diasporic salve.  For all present, Lift Every Voice and Sing was an uplifting and unifying event, bringing us down into the valley and back out again together. The dream is alive.

  • Griots t’ Garage

    Uplifting the African spirit

    "Jazz fusion at its finest engaged the Harbourfront during KUUMBA this year. Pounding beats, electrifying back drops and a lively audience made for an incredible evening.

    Needless to say, in their North American debut the Griots t’ Garage blew us away. To begin there’s a DJ supplying the break-beats, a trombonist and a camera guy on stage; this should have been the first indictor that this evening would not be routine.

    Described as part tribute, part documentary and part concert, Griots t’ Garage is a new age multimedia experience certainly a novel approach to jazz. With live-on-the-floor footage and visual projectionists it’s clear that this group thrives on innovation. They’ve also be known to use elements like Jazz dancers and percussionist in their act. However on this night it would be front man, Dennis Rollins’ musical dexterity that captivated us. It was obvious although constantly evolving with the use of hip-hop, garage and funk beat Griots t’ garage stays true to its Jazz roots relying heavily on Rollins’ skilful trombone solos.

    Dennis Rollins is not afraid to work, he moves across the stage never losing step with the beat. Transitioning from one song to the next, making the underrated trombone an even more arresting instrument than I thought possible. He blows, he smiles, he jumps all the while teasing us with standards like “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing”.

    According to the Griots sound engineer Stephen their goal is to wrap the music around the audience to make each performance something new.

    “What I enjoy the most is the experience even tonight was completely different, it’s nice to come in, take on a challenge and be successful at it.”

    The Griots performance was unlike anything I imagined one could experience listening or watching a jazz performance. Radical images of black activist flash on screen as the beats build to crescendo, virtually without pause melancholy tunes coincide with colorful kaleidoscopes. With each transition it leads one to ponder whether the image tells the story behind the music or is the music the backdrop to the images transmitted on screen.

    The jazz impresario, Dennis Rollins explained the meaning behind the music.

    “It’s a way of connecting back to my home, connecting right back to Africa taking a journey as many places I can. All musical genres that I’ve been trying to cover all have the same connection- they all have the drum of the heartbeat.”

    Dennis was also kind enough to express his thoughts on performing in Toronto for the first time.  “I’m really enjoying the culture here in Toronto, there’s a real community spirit and obviously because it’s black history month I’m seeing a lot of brothers and sisters all celebrating -that’s what life is and it’s beautiful to see that here.”

    A melting pot of the blues, modern jazz, ancient African rhythms and funky garage grooves the Griots t’ Garage melodic expedition is worth a listen.

    Adele Ambrose is the AfroToronto.com Arts Editor. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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