Thursday, July 11, 2019

#NotMyAriel Either!

Little Rose

Hey Disney Overlords:

I know you are not going to scrap the upcoming live-action version of The Little Mermaid. I accept it and have already decided not to support it.

Yes, because it is a remake that NOBODY wanted.

And yes, because you have chosen to cast Halle Bailey to play an already iconic character with a signature look for a movie NOBODY WANTED!

Because everyone was perfectly fine with the classic.

I suppose you may consider myself and others with this opinion to be unfair. It is the current year and representation matters. 

Representation never mattered to me when I was growing up, yet I acknowledge that for some, it means everything to see themselves positively represented in the media they consume. They'll take anything. So it is quite easy to give them a chorus of five Muses or a non-Princess who spends the better part of her movie as a frog and they will be satisfied for the next decade or so.

Or until the hype wears off and they figure out what just happened. 

Halle Bailey is breathtakingly beautiful and has an angelic voice. Forgive me for wanting to see her become an iconic "Disney Princess" in her own right instead of a flimsy imitation of an already established and beloved 30-year-old character in a MOVIE NOBODY WANTED!

I get it. The live-action remakes are there to cash in on nostalgia, bring beloved animated characters to life, right some "wrongs", fix plot holes no one cared about, and show off how magical technology has become even as your audiences are craving new adaptations of other fairytales from the company that does it best.

Sometimes.

All right, I'll just say it. The Princess And The Frog was...okay...even though--as I said--Tiana spent the better part of her movie as a frog, a decision I find rather odd. Not only because it is the opposite of what happens in The Frog Prince, but I thought the whole point of the representation thing is that the so-called marginalized person is actually seen, heard, and regarded as normal and beautiful as they are. It's almost like you had to take Tiana out of her form for the audience to really come to like her as a person. (I understand that choice given her side character--Lotte--was far more interesting than Tiana was. And where is Lotte's straight to DVD/BLU-RAY story by the way?)

And now, with this switch on Ariel, a black woman is going to spend part of her movie in silence. But representation matters and all that.

You know, I'll get off that subject. What I say about it isn't really going to change anything.

I do hope what I say at least makes you think about the messages you are sending out. I would like to think they are inadvertent, but maybe they are on purpose. I already know you are not against finding and bringing fascinating folktales from various different cultures to life as you did with Aladdin and Mulan and Moana. Or taking the ancient traditions of a culture and creating a story around that. As you did with CoCo. Or taking a lush, country covered in magic and strong, beautiful people and creating a story within their land and about their people--as was done with Brave.

Can the same not be done for Black Africans or Black Americans? Is such a task too daunting or not worth your time and energy?

I'm only asking because your Founder wasn't above exploring such avenues even though you try to hide it. The Uncle Remus stories may have been recorded by Joel Chandler Harris, but both he AND Walt Disney wanted to make sure the world knew that those stories about Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox came from Black American slaves as shown in that movie you are trying to erase from Disney history.

But I digress.

I'm not going to pretend to know of every ancient Black African or Black American folktale that there ever was, beyond John Henry (excellent job on that one by the way). So many stories got lost over time. But there are stories out there deserving to be brought to screen.

Like John Steptoe's Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters! I know you've seen this book. It's been in print since 1986. I first learned about it on Reading Rainbow. I've performed in the stage adaptation--including three national tours--I have to say it is hard for me to remember if we ever had a show that wasn't completely packed. People LOVE this book. Especially in Brooklyn where John Steptoe is their native son and a source of pride.

I get the feeling you are fully aware of all this. So my question is, have you ever considered it? 

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters

Hear me out!

Now your animators have to honor John Steptoe's stunning illustrations, that's obvious.

You've got to get Alex Boyé to cover the soundtrack along with your golden guy Menken. Ladysmith Black Mambazo have to be on the soundtrack. It's a rule, don't question it.

As for the entertainers giving voice to the four top characters, I'm thinking:
Djimon Hounsou as Mufaro
India.Aire as Manyara
Lupita Nyong'o as Nyasha
And a handsome, honey-voiced Broadway Baby as the King.

Name the King after John Steptoe's son while you're at it. His name is Javaka. Isn't that beautiful?

And in a decade or so, when you decide to make what I predict will be a hit for you live-action, because I get the feeling you can't help yourselves anymore, casting should not be TOO controversial so long as they look like the characters in the animated version--skin tone, hair color and all.

I would have suggested Halle AND Chloe for the titular roles, but since you've now permanently branded Halle as the "Black Ariel", that's out. It would be a great chance to make some unknown Black American actors legendary, but I would keep Djimon Hounsou as Mufaro. Don't worry, he won't age very much.

I realize this is all wishful thinking even though I get giddy at the thought of it. Maybe representation matters more to me than I'm letting on. All I know is if you did this, I would be at the Cinema every week soaking it in and loving every minute of it, my Samhain costume would be set, and I would hurry to the Magic Kingdom just to get my picture taken with Manyara and Nyasha in a Disney Princess meet and greet.

And I wouldn't be the only one. Don't believe me? Ask any woman or girl: Black, White, Zimbabwean, Chinese, Polynesian, Scottish, Mexican, and so on if she would do the same. You might discover that not everyone is as keen on your idea for a Black Ariel as you would like them to be.

Just a suggestion. Just a thought you may never read. Perhaps I'll have the chance to meet one of you one day and I can suggest it face to face, and you can see how important something like this can be. 

Alas, I'm only one reluctant woman in a nation of millions who will see your remake anyway. However, in another ten years, when those people realize what you did and you are back at square one, keep my suggestion in mind.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

#TenYearsWithoutMichaelJackson

Little Rose


My most treasured personal and artistic inspiration is Michael Jackson. And not just the iconic artist, for his creative work is just how I know who he is. Mike from Gary, Indiana; Joe and Katherine’s son. He is my Muse and I love him dearly.


His entire body of work has had an impact on me in various ways, from Motown to his creative endeavors as an adult.


Remember The Time has the same effect on me now as it did the first time I heard it. Those opening notes play and I am out of my seat. And that beautiful short film is deliciousness for the eyes; those gorgeous dancers in their various shades of decadent chocolate giving the Egyptian glare while moving to that powerful beat, Michael glowing like a radiant vision of gold, so sensual and magical. Timeless.



Black and White and its short film makes me supremely happy.



Keep The Faith is the confidence shot that I need from time to time.




Will You Be There and Earth Song, I call them prayers because I have caught the spirit while listening to them.



I’ve been writing creatively since I was nine and over the years—as I learned more about Michael Jackson, he has found his way into some of my books, giving me some characters just as endearing and unique as he was.




I love the story his brother Jackie tells of his aspirations for Thriller at the time. Michael wanted to sell 20 million records which Brother Jackie thought was beyond lofty. Michael would go on to sell 42 million. And counting. That let me know that Michael Jackson was a man who knew how big his God is and I must always know the same.



“If you enter the world knowing you are loved and you leave this world knowing the same, then everything that happens in between can be dealt with.”
                                                               —Michael Jackson



Brother Michael, you are still very much loved. Thank you for sharing your gifts and your love with the world.


I miss you, Dear One.