Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Retirement of Amanda Bynes

I was really shocked when I read Amanda Bynes stated she was retiring from acting at 24. I was sure I’d be seeing much more of her work onscreen in the future. Unfortunately, that won’t be the case and that’s going to be a huge loss for everyone.

With the retirement of Bynes, Hollywood has lost one of it’s the best performers. A talented comedienne, a solid actress, and a consummate professional who lived a clean life on and off the set. Honing her skills over the past fifteen years, in sitcoms, sketch comedy and feature films, Bynes developed perfect comic timing and a strong screen presence. She always gave strong performances with a lot of heart and passion.

It’s an understatement to say liked Amanda’s work; I never missed an episode of What I Like About You and even saw some of her movies like Lovewrecked and She’s The Man. She was a delight to watch onscreen and I was sure I’d be hearing her acceptance speech on Oscar night in a few years. She was that good. I always felt it was a matter of when she’d find that breakout project and take her career to the next level.

While her reasons for leaving acting are her own, I understand that she’s making the right decision for herself. It’s better for her to move forward and discover what makes her happy rather than stay in a career she isn’t satisfied with. After reading about so many tragic ends for child stars while doing my research for All About Marilyn, it’s great to hear about a former child actor leaving the entertainment industry on her own terms rather than in a body bag.

So why am I writing about Amanda Bynes and not someone more popular say like, Michael Jackson or Gary Coleman? Well Amanda’s work onscreen inspired me to write. When I was writing All About Marilyn, Amanda’s high-strung performances inspired me to create the Tabatha Strong character. When I was writing her, I heard Bynes’ “voice” as Tabatha.

For those who think I’m colorstruck: If Salli Richardson were to retire from acting, she’d be getting a blog post too. And a much longer one at that. Her work had an even bigger impact on my influencing my writing; her performances inspired three characters in four different books.

Amanda Bynes probably won’t ever read this, but I’d like to thank her for entertaining me these past few years and inspiring my writing. Maybe if I’m lucky there will be a chance to see her work again.

May I Help You? Brothas Need Not apply

The next time you’re at the register in a store, the teller window of a bank, or the front desk of a hotel take a good look at the person behind the counter. Chances are you’ll rarely ever see a Black male working there.

When it comes to service jobs which require public interaction, Black males are the least likely to be hired even if they have the qualifications to fill the job. Positions like receptionist, administrative assistant, sales rep, customer service rep are often filled by a White woman, Black woman, Hispanic woman, Asian woman, or Hispanic man.

So why don’t we see Black men in at the front desk? A little bit of sexism and a whole lot of racism. Most corporate cultures have an institutionally racist perception of Black men that taints their hiring process. The unwritten rule within the policies of most businesses is that Black men should not be in jobs where they are visible to the public. Traditionally, the front desk/counterperson was considered the “face” who represented the business.

That’s where the sexism comes in.

In addition to these unwritten rules and institutionally racist policies towards black men, many in management have a sexist perception of who should work in front-desk service positions steeped in dated traditional roles for men and women. In the past people who worked in positions such as a receptionist, administrative assistant, or customer service rep were White females and females of color. Employers who subconsciously adhered to these traditional roles for men and women want their service person such as a receptionist or administrative assistant to be a hostess, someone who invites people into their business and makes them comfortable with a soft pleasant voice that they believe is soothing to hear over the phone.
Because of this racism and sexism, the institution of management in America frowns on the idea of having a Black male in front-desk service positions. Many in management regardless of race don’t want the person representing their company to be a Black male because they fear it could be detrimental to the growth of their business and will alienate customers.

So how are these hiring practices detrimental to Black males and employment? With the service sector being fastest growing area of the economy in the United States over the last twenty years, oftentimes these are the only jobs available in urban areas. With most service positions in the inner-city oftentimes being filled by Black females, Hispanic females or Hispanic men, this discrimination leads to the disproportionate unemployment of Black men. In some urban areas the unemployment rate of Black males is close to 60 percent while the unemployment rate for other minorities (especially by gender) is much lower.

In the past, businesses in the service sector offered jobs to Black men were in non-visible areas such as the mailroom, copy clerk, stock clerk, porter or maintenance. However, many of these traditional service positions where Black men were employed were eliminated after the tragedy of 9/11. After 9/11, some businesses realized they could be more productive without these positions. Other firms realized they could hire Hispanic or Easter European workers in the same positions for a lower salary and less benefits. Worse, many in management were more comfortable with the idea of having Hispanic men or Eastern European men in these service positions and preferred hiring them instead of Black men.

Unless there’s a drastic change in the perceptions of American society regarding African-American men and service sector, many if not most Black men will not be able to find and retain full-time employment. This will lead to an economic crisis in the Black community not seen since the drafts of the Vietnam War in 1965.
Currently the service sector, especially front desk positions that require interaction with the public are a “hostile environment” when it comes to the employment of Black men. Most managers regardless of race do not have a positive perception of Black males in the workplace. Moreover, many in business regardless of gender or race are extremely hesitant to hire a Black male as the “face of their company.

Because of decades of institutionally racist policies and culturally sexist perceptions of work and gender roles, many in management regardless of color cannot comprehend the idea of a Black male in a service position requiring public interaction and hire other minorities whenever possible. Usually, when a Black male applies for a position in the service sector, candidates are often perceived as lazy and incompetent during interviews or even before they apply for the position. Employers often use these prejudices to disqualify many capable black males from employment even if they meet all the requirements for the position.

The few Black males who overcome the discriminatory hiring process and are employed
in service positions are often met with no support from management and resistance from co-workers. Instead of feeling “welcomed” during the first few weeks while adjusting to the new workplace, many black men encounter a work environment that is distant and tense with managers and co-workers who have very little patience or understanding. During this adjustment period, management tends to punish new Black male hires and threaten them with termination for small mistakes. However, these same managers would usually tolerate the same mistakes from a female or Hispanic male employee in the same position.

Co-workers often express their discomfort with Black male employees in service
positions with passive-aggressive behavior. For example, during the training of a new black male hire, a female assistant will withhold critical information that is integral to the employee performing their work duties. However, this same assistant would easily share this information with another female co-worker. Other passive-aggressive behaviors Black men have faced in the service workplace from co-workers included memos not being delivered to their desk, documents being “lost”, management not introducing the new hire to seinior staff or other co-workers or “forgetting” to return from a break so the new hire could take theirs.
Oftentimes, when Black men try to communicate with co-workers in service environments, they are met with defensive body language, indifferent responses, or they’re met with downright hostility. With most service positions requiring constant communication between co-workers, it becomes nearly impossible for a Black male to perform well in the workplace.

Black men also deal with resistance from customers as well in front of the counter. Many customers of numerous ethnicities are more willing and eager to complain about perceived “harsh treatment” or “rude service” when served by a Black male at the counter. Other customers have complained of “hard tone” or “hostility” on the phone with a Black male customer service rep. Moreover, some customers perceive facial expressions of black men as “angry”, “surly”, or “menacing”, when they approach a black male clerk or sales associate for assistance. Other customers perceived themselves as being in danger and won’t approach black male employees at the counter and the sales floor.

This hostile and racist environment within the service sector creates a “self-fulfilling prophecy” where Black men are unable to perform the basic tasks of their jobs. Because they are perceived as incompetent, lazy and judged by unrealistic double standards from managers and co-workers, many black men become frustrated and resign. Other Black males are terminated for minor infractions and have their work records unfairly tarnished. This turnover creates a false perception in society that black males are poor employees. However, this is far from the truth. Most Black males do not perform well in service positions due to institutionally racist policies, cultural adhesion to sexist gender roles in employment, a lack of support from management and co-workers, and prejudices from the public.

Can the service sector change the way it treats black men seeking employment? Yes it can. To do that will require American management to change its culturally racist perceptions of Black men. Employers will have to overcome their prejudices and move past stereotypes they have learned about Black males. They will have to be paitient and understanding and learn how to support their black male employees the same way they support black female employees and other minorities.

Why am I writing this? I’ve been employed in numerous service jobs since 1994 and over the years I’ve noticed a pattern in how minorities were placed in jobs and how Black men were treated in the workplace. From my observations over the years I noticed that Black men worked out of sight in the back, other minorities and females of color in the front regardless of education. At hiring pools, women of color and Hispanic men with the same qualifications were hired before Black men for a front-desk or administrative support position. When I was placed in the front-end service jobs like the receptionist’s desk or at the circulation desk of a library, I was met with tremendous resistance from just about everyone. I often wondered if it was racism; looking back I’m pretty sure. People aren’t comfortable with the idea of a Black man serving them, and that has to change.

I’m deeply concerned that if these trends continue in the workplace Black men will have an even harder time finding and retaining full-time employment. With the unemployment rate of Black men reaching 60-75 percent in some urban areas, I feel it’s time brothas started discussing the racist, sexist and discriminatory hiring practices in the service sector.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

All About Casting

Okay, let’s say hypothetically I get a chance to actually make an All About Marilyn movie tomorrow. Who would best fit what roles? Who would be the best director? Well this is who I’d like to see in the major roles along with runner-ups based on the performers available now.

NOTE: This is FANTASY CASTING. No parts are offered nor is this a REAL film in production!

Salli Richardson Whitfield as Marilyn Marie: Richardson is the most underrated black actress in the business today. Better in her craft than Halle Berry, Angela Bassett, Queen Latifah, ANYONE. From what I’ve seen in her work on Gargoyles, Eureka, and films like Black Dynamite, I am Legend, Posse, Never 2 Big and How U Like Me Now, I know she has the skills to play Marilyn Marie. Richardson conveys a tremendous amount of emotion and humanity onscreen and would perfectly present Marilyn’s inner strength and emotional vulnerability onscreen. Richardson has a mesmerizing screen presence that keeps viewers eyes glued to the screen, this sista is so strong onscreen she can effortlessly carry a movie from beginning to end the same way Superman carries a battleship to port. In my eyes she’s only been one role away from being a superstar. Could Marilyn be it? I believe so. I think audiences would connect with her as an older, washed-up Marilyn, and she’d be incredibly effective in portraying Marilyn’s transformation from faded starlet to human being. Another plus is that Richardson has an active interest in fitness and nutrition, a strong body, something required for playing Marilyn.

Runner up #2 Regina King. Another former child star from 227, she’s evolved as an actress with amazing set of skills in films like How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Ray. I believe she’d play a strong Marilyn with a tremendous humanity and compassion. AAM would be a great role to add to her already impressive resume; Marilyn is a strong leading role and there’s a lot of room for her to show her solid acting range. I also feel Marilyn would be an impressive vehicle to show studio executives that she could carry a movie on her own. The only things keeping out of the lead is whether or not she’d do the required nudity for the role.

Runner up: #3 Tia Mowry. Tia has shown she’s grown as an actress since her “Sister Sister” days. Her work on The Game is some of her best work of her career. On that show’s fourth season she’s shown the start of an amazing range, and I believe the role of Marilyn Marie would allow her to take her skills to the next level. As a former child star grown up, I believe she has experiences to draw on that would allow her to give a powerful performance. The only thing keeping her out the lead role is whether or not she’d do the nudity required for the role. She’d be a sleeper in this role; I feel she’d surprise everyone and make them re-think who she is as an actress. I believe AAM could be her Big, the breakthrough role that shows she has what it takes for playing more dramatic parts.

Stockard Channing as Sabrina Lowenstein: As I was writing Marilyn, I used to hear Channing’s voice as Sabrina, so I’m kinda biased on this one. But I can tell you from watching her work on The West Wing and Six Degrees of Separation and The Stockard Channing Show on YouTube she has the elegance and grace to play Sabrina as tough and crusty but sensitive and soft at the same time. I feel she’d have amazing chemistry with King or Richardson onscreen; it’d be something incredible to watch either of these seasoned veterans onscreen with a master like Channing. I’d also pay money to see if Mowry had developed the skills to hold her own with one of the best actresses in the game.

Runner up: Meryl Streep. Okay I’m really REALLY dreaming here. But come on, Meryl Streep and Salli Richardson- Meryl Streep and Regina King working togehter? People would pay money and then some to see either of these two onscreen! (People would also pay money just to see if Tia Mowry could hold her own with this seasoned veteran!) Streep is incredible onscreen and she’d play Sabrina effortlessly. The only thing keeping her out of the role in my eyes is whether or not she’d be able to effectively have chemistry with Richardson or King.

Pauley Perette as Ava Gardner: Sure she’s 40-something but she doesn’t look a day past 27. Perette would be a blast as the glib, fast-talking administrative assistant “agent in training” who sells Marilyn into a tragic turn of life-changing events then weasels her way out of it with a smile.

Runner up: Sara Rue: Sara Rue would be a perfect Ava; she showed a lot of spark in Less Than Perfect and looks like she’d be a convincing administrative assistant. The only drawback: Would the audience accept sugary sweet Sara Rue as a manipulative conniving cutthroat businesswoman trying to steal her boss’ clients?

Salma Hayek as Lucia Baretto: Hayek’s work in Frieda speaks for itself. I feel she’d effectively play an intelligent compassionate woman with humanity and a sense of humor. Since Lucia is a dressed down church counselor for most of the film, it’d be a great role for her to show her acting range instead of her assets.

Runner up: America Fererra Fererra’s work on Ugly Betty and films like Real Women Have Curves and The Sisterhood of the Traveling pants shows she is a strong performer in lead and supporting roles. I believe she has what it takes to play Lucia as an intelligent compassionate Latina with humanity and a sense of humor. Nothing really holding Fererra back, she’s so great she’s in neck-and neck competition with Hayek (her former boss on Ugly Betty) for this supporting role.

Regina King as Shayla Sims: Another former child star from 227, She’s evolved as an actress with amazing set of skills with roles films like How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Ray. I see a great intelligence in her that fits a college professor like Dr. Sims. I also see a great sense of humor in her that would allow her to effectively play off any actress who played Marilyn and convey a sense of long-term friendship.

Runner up: Snaa Lathan I love Snaa’s work! Nuff said.

Amanda Bynes as the adult Tabatha Strong: It’d be a change of pace for Bynes who is used to playing sweet sugary roles. However I believe playing a crazed, meth addled insecure starlet would surprise everyone and show the long acting range I know she has. Like former child stars Mowry and Fererra, she has a lot of personal experience to draw on for the role. Comedy actors are often better in dramas and I feel Tabatha is the kind of role that would allow Bynes to breakthrough to more serious roles the same way Tom Hanks and Robin Williams did.

Gene Hackman as Hiram Silverstien: Sure he’s retired, but no one plays smarmy douche better than Gene Hackman; dude should have his face on a bottle of Massengil or Summer’s Eve. Watch Crimson Tide, The Sting Superman, anything he’s been in he’d be perfect as a racist, misogynistic fast talking slick Hollywood executive.

Jason Alexander as Martin Rosenthal: No smarmy Hollywood exec would be without his pet lawyer and no one would be a better one than Jason Alexander. He’d be great to watch as butt-kissing toadie!

Reggie Hayes as Dr. Ellis: He was great as a lawyer on Girlfriends, and I think he’d have a great bedside manner as the doctor who helps Marilyn during her stay in the hospital.

Keenan, Damon, Kim and Marlon Wayans as the G-town Productions crew: These guys would be awesome to watch as casting directors of the low budget prodco who roast Marilyn crispy. I definitely would love to see Marlon as Kwon; even more eager to see what they’d do with improv in this scene.

Heidi Lenhart and Kelly Packard as Natalie and Holly: These two former California Dreamers would be perfect to play a pair of rich California blondes who give Marilyn a hassle at the gym. I admit I’m biased in casting here: It was Heidi Lenhart’s performances in first season episodes of California Dreams I watched that inspired to create the Marilyn Marie character and the premise for this story.

Debra Jo Rupp as Lori. Many remember her as “Kitty Forman” on that 70’s show. I remember her as the evil office manager in Clockwatchers tearing Parker Posey a new one. I feel she’d be perfect as a snobby co-op board president who uses her position and power to crush a faded starlet. (SPOILER!)

Tahj Mowry as Adam the Clown: It’d be a nice change of pace to see the grown up smart guy playing a wide-eyed wisecracking, young ambitious Hollywood kid looking for his break. Mowry is a solid performer and I think he has the range to play this major supporting role as Marilyn’s last fan. (SPOILER!)

Wesley Jonathan as Garrett Williams: Wesley Jonathan is another teen/child star from back in the day. I feel he’d be solid in both the early sequences supporting role as a young black ambitious PA and later as a man who grows up into a director working on his dream project. Again I’m biased; I used to hear Jonathan’s voice when I was writing Garrett character.

Runner Up: Jaleel White Everyone knows Jaleel White was Urkel on Family Matters. But what many don’t know is that he has grown up to become a writer, producer and director. White would be perfect for Garrett and would have a boatload of experience to draw from. The only thing holding him back ironically: URKEL!

Robert Gillaume as Professor Chris Cherry: A seasoned veteran performer, Giaullme would play a professor Cherry with grace, intelligence and warmth. It’d be fun to see how any lead actress would hold their own with him.

Michael Ealy as Eric James: Ealy has a down to earth presence which would work great for Marilyn’s love interest. He’s a solid actor who’d be a great asset to any cast Doesn’t hurt that he’s easy on the eyes for the ladies. Besides, light skinned brothas haven’t gotten any love since 86’!

Runner Up: Anthony Anderson: Anderson also is incredibly versatile and very underrated, I’ve checked out his comedy and drama work and I think it’d be great to see him as a love interest; something we haven’t seen from him before.

Director: Debbie Allen Debbie Allen is one of the best black female directors in the business. Stage, Screen and Television she has the skills; to make a solid Marilyn production. With a track record of turned the struggling sitcom A Different World around 20 years ago and has directing The recent musical version of The Color Purple and A Rasin in the Sun, I know she’d effectively translate what I wrote into pictures onscreen. She’d be very sensitive to the issue of black women in Hollywood; I think she’d put a lot of passion and heart into an All About Marilyn production.

Runner up#1 : Denzel Washington. All About Marilyn is written with a very unique art style that utilizes contrasting visuals and symbolic imagery, and complex three-dimensional characters. After watching Washington’s Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters, I’m very confident that Denzel Washington’s lens could effectively tell Marilyn’s story. Washington has shown a great sensitivity and humanity towards African-Americans in his films; this is a crucial component to Marilyn’s story. I also have great confidence that Washington would play up the Christian undertones without being too preachy.

Runner Up#2: Spike Lee. One of the best directors of the 20th Century, All About Marilyn is a script tailor made for Spike Lee’s camera. I know Spike Lee would make a beautiful Marilyn film that features contrasting visuals and symbolic imagery I designed. I also have faith that he’d develop the characters into complex three dimensional people full of humanity. Watching Lee’s work in Bamboozled I believe he’d brilliantly tell a story about Marilyn onscreen without compromising the integrity of the script. Another Plus is that Lee is a Native New Yorker like myself and he would shoot the New York in such a way that it’d come alive and build into the powerful climax.

The only thing keeping Lee out of the director’s chair in my eyes is his past misogyny towards black women. Girl 6 speaks volumes about his contempt for black women. Marilyn is a movie about the struggles of black actress behind the camera, and requires a filmmaker to have a sensitivity towards the sisters and their struggles.

Yeah, I’m choosing a lot of underrated performers, former child stars, and B and C and even D list actors. Would they work together well onscreen? I don’t know. However, I feel the best performers don’t come from the A-list. I feel that the B, C and D listers can show something once given the shot at a lead roles. Yesterday’s supporting role is today’s lead star.