Monday, April 7, 2014

African Performer Sila Introduces International Comic Book Hero and CD, SuperAfrican!

The comic book industry has historically been dominated by white cartoon artists and therefore white characters. But today, there is a growing black comic book industry. The first black comic book, All-Negro Comics, was published in 1947 by the first black cartoon artist, Orrin C. Evans, who hoped his venture would create an opportunity for other black cartoon artists to utilize their talent. 

Unfortunately, only one issue was printed, and Evans was virtually banned from the comic book industry by prominent main stream publishers. The controversy over black characters in comics continued.

Black characters in comic books were often marginalized sidekicks, and rife with stereotypes. In 1965 Dell Comics released the first black comic book series featuring a black character, Lobo, a western hero. It wasn’t well received, and only ran for two issues before it was canceled. Bundles of comics that had been sent out to distributors came back unopened. 

In 1966 DC comics created the first black superhero Black Panther, which appeared in the 52nd issue of Fantastic Four. This character fared better among fans and continues to be popular today, with ongoing rumored talks amongst industry insiders of a much anticipated Black Panther movie.

As the growing interest in black comic books continues in the U.S., the art form has spanned worldwide with comics from international artists. Kenyan born musical performer, and 2010 NAACP Image Award recipient, Sila, dubbed “Africa’s James Brown” has released a comic book entitled SuperAfrican. From refugee camps to diamond minds, SuperAfrican, written by Eric K. Arnold, is a young African superhero that fights against societal and ecological crimes.

Sila wanted to create a comic book that reflected his experiences, adventures and environments of his native Africa, and a superhero that addressed the issues of African children. “My hope is that it can inspire young kids in Africa to learn to how to be resilient and become better human beings,” Sila explained. Combining his passion for music, Sila has released an accompanying CD of the same name that serves as a soundtrack to the comic book that includes R&B, soul, funk and American pop influences, and features contributions from musicians including, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Jazz Mafia and Sting.

Net proceeds from comic book sales go to benefit the nonprofit, OneMama, an organization that maintains a “self-sustaining medical clinic that promotes safe birthing environments, family and financial planning, and trade (craft and agricultural) education in Kirindi, Uganda”.

If you’d like to win a copy of the comic book and CD, leave a comment about how you feel about black comic books, or the idea of SuperAfrican! Winners will be selected April 21st!

To find out more about Sila and this project, go to If you’d like to go ahead and order your own copy of the SuperAfrican comic book and CD, click here!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Comedian Michelle Buteau Discusses Her Role on 'Enlisted' and More!

With a a role on Fox's new comedy Enlisted, and a talk show coming up this summer, comedian and actress Michelle Buteau is apparently out to conquer the world! I first became aware of Buteau when she appeared on Would You Rather, a weird game show on BBC America. The show has no official scoring rules, it's just about whoever makes the host laugh the most with answers to questions involving a choice between two ridiculous extremes. Well, Buteau won during her appearance, and the New Jersey native has been winning ever since. The funny lady shares how she got her start in comedy, what it's like to be on a TV series and more!

Who or what inspired you to become a comedian?

I was a video editor at WNBC, most of my colleagues told me I should do stand up. I didn't believe them. It wasn't till a week after 9/11 happened that I realized, I should try something…anything else, other than working in news. 
How did you get your start?

I saw an ad in the Village Voice for Steve Rosenfeld's American Comedy Institute. I took a class with him, and it was pretty damn good. He was honest and spot on. He wasn't trying to sell something to you. He tried to take what everyone's story and personality was and help them mold it into a five minute late night set. It was pretty interesting. 

What, if any are some of the challenges you have faced as a female comedian, and as a black comedian?

Pretty much the same I've faced as a black female outside of comedy anywhere else. "I'm not sure you're the right fit", "Do we have anything in common?", "I need diversity and you're a two for one." 

Is there any performer you would love to work with and why?

I don't have a name per say, I just love to work with people at any stage who love the craft, and are easy to work with. If they watch Breaking Bad, even better. 

You’ve had great successes with shows like VH1’s Best Week Ever, MTV's Walk of Shame, and the Oxygen Network's Kiss & Tell. Now you’re a regular on Fox’s new comedy, Enlisted. What’s it like?

Enlisted is amazing. There are a few times where you can say you love everyone, you get everyone, you wish the best for everyone … this is one of those shows. Everyone's invested, and in turn, they make you want to be not just a better performer, but a better person. It's a rarity to work with experienced people in the business who appreciate the craft above all else. 

Tell us about Enlisted, and your character, Tanisha Robinson.

I like to call Tanisha the Beyonce of the group, 'cause she's the only pair of brown titties, oh kaaay! She's the no holds barred, tell it like it is Madea goes to the Army "hey gurl hey" friend everyone has. 

I read you also have a development deal with VH1. What type(s) of projects are you planning on bringing to the network?

I've got a talk show airing during the summer on VH1! As soon as I have more details I'll follow up - I. AM. EXCITED! It's about to get "turnt" up! 

Who is the funniest person in your life?
Ugh! What a question. Everyone really. All the people in my life are hilarious to me, and always give me a reason to laugh sideways into a hiccup. I just can't.  

Thanks to Michelle Buteau for spending some time with Cocoa Popps! You can catch Enlisted on Fox on Friday nights at 9/8c.

Friday, March 14, 2014

'The Single Moms Club'-Exactly What You Expect From a Tyler Perry Movie-Nothing More, Nothing Less

I had an idea of what to expect when I went to see Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club starring well, Perry of course, Nia Long, Wendi McLendon-Covey, comedian Cocoa Brown, Amy Smart and relative newcomer, Zulay Henao. Unfortunately, I got exactly what I anticipated in this story about five women from varied walks of life who become connected from their experience of being single moms: mediocre writing, poor acting and caricatures instead of characters. I really like the premise of the film, and thought it was a fresh departure from the mogul’s typical material, but again, with Perry, it usually comes down to execution.

The best things in this movie oddly were Perry (though seeing him kiss Long’s character made me feel sick), who I find to be a natural actor, and Henao, who seemed able to impart appropriate meaning and emotion into her character’s virtually meaningless and emotionally devoid dialogue. But the movie chugged along at a “I feel compelled to obsessively check my watch” pace, primarily because I really didn’t feel for these characters. And part of that was because there were too many aspects of the movie that were heavy handed, and therefore distraction. 

Each of the women possessed a distinct archetype: the white fierce career woman, the rich, helpless white woman, the “strong black woman”, the Latina hot tamale whose looks have afforded her a certain lifestyle and made her dependent, and the professional black woman who’s together on the outside and a mess inside. We get it. These women are all distinctively different, but the exposition of these characters, particularly that of McLendon, who plays Jan, the fierce career woman who has focused more of her energy on her career than her daughter is a bit over the top. Jan is constantly battling forces at the office who remind her in ways that feel very unlikely and illegal in real life, that because she’s a mother, she’s not promotable. I think this story would have benefited from a more subtle delivery to demonstrate the dilemma and personality of each character. Another problem in this movie is the stereotypical portrayals of black women.

Long, who plays May, and Brown, who plays Lytia, are black women who have children fathered by pathetic, absentee black men who embody lame stereotypes. One is in jail, of course, and one is on drugs, of course. I’m tired of this. The other women in this movie are single by circumstance-divorce, or personal choices. Why couldn’t the black women in this “film” have been single moms for different reasons? Not all black single mothers are single because their man is in jail, or on the streets. I’m tired of Perry painting black women with this same ridiculous brush. Another stereotype demonstrated in the film is the “strong black woman” syndrome. Smart’s character Hilary just can’t figure out how to take care of her kids. She doesn’t even know where the drinking glasses are in her house. Lytia swoops in with her “strong black woman” cape, gets the baby to sleep and restores order amongst the chaos. Later Hilary and Jan marvel at how “strong” Lytia is in a very long and weird scene where Jan oddly and in "dumb white lady" fashion compares her to a “big black wall”. What? The movie hits you over the head with the “plight of the black woman” and the belief that all white women are clueless, which are both insulting generalizations that do more harm than good to both groups. I get what Perry was trying to do here in this scene, but the point came across in such a big way that it felt foolish. 

The bottom line is that Perry needs to and should be much better at making movies by now. I’m happy he not only a platform, but an empire, however, we’re still having quality control issues-something that is probably difficult to regulate if one is manufacturing movies like chicken nuggets. I know Perry produces work for a pretty specific audience, but that doesn’t mean that audience doesn’t deserve a level of improvement in the work. And in this film, I would have appreciated if the portrayal of black single moms had been done with more fairness. (Tyler, you really need to get it together with this.)

The Single Moms Club is typical Tyler Perry fare, with some laughs and moments of truth, but tries too hard and finishes flat. However, if you’re a Tyler Perry fan, you’ll probably like it, but if you’re a fan of good movies, you should probably see something else.

BuzzFeed and Steenfox-Social Media Ethics, Public Content Ownership and Coopting Black Genius

Sooo… we have yet another tricky social media situation that entails white media (ab)using issues and content concerning and created by the black community. Now, this situation took me a minute to sort out, but let’s see if I can accurately break it down.  

Social media presence @Steenfox asked women in her Twitter community what they were wearing when they were sexually assaulted, addressing the shame many women who are victims of sex crimes face when idiots try to blame the victim by questioning their appearance to suggest they asked for it. Okay…  

@Steenfox apparently got many responses. Oh! @Steenfox is black and many of her followers are also black women. (To be honest I don’t know who @Steenfox is or what she does, but she has over 17K followers!) So this woman has influence and is apparently respected enough for people to respond to this VERY difficult issue.

Then…. reporter Jessica Testa contacted the people who responded to @Steenfox’s question asking them if she could include them in a piece for BuzzFeed. If you haven’t heard of BuzzFeed, it’s a site that has made a name for itself by creating niche content revolving around their famed lists, like “21 Signs You’re Obsessed With Olive Garden” and “24 Things Only Your Best Friend Knows About You”, and memes, gifs and other millennial-ey content. They have different verticals, but are very popular for their culture pieces. 

So……Testa reached out to @Steenfox ‘s followers asking for permission to use their tweets in the piece, “Sexual Assault Survivors Answer The Question ‘What Were You Wearing When You Were Assaulted?’ ” (I'm not posting the link because I don't want to further expose the survivors.) Many responded saying they gave Testa permission to use their tweets in her piece. However, Testa did NOT ask for @Steenfox’s permission to post tweets related to HER question until AFTER the piece was apparently put on the site. Hmmm….this raises several issues. 

Is there ownership over content that is already public?

In other words, tweets are public, so does one have to ask for permission for them to be reprinted? And does one have to ask the person who posed a question/issue/circumstance to a social media community for permission to use the responses? I think on THIS issue, if you are asking the people who responded to @Steenfox’s question that was of a very sensitive and personal nature for permission to use their tweets, why not ask @Steenfox for permission to use what is technically her curated content? Does this not fall into the category of intellectual property?

Additionally, yes tweets are public, and one can use them for other purposes, but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Had BuzzFeed not run this story, I believe the identity of the people who tweeted would have remained more private. I don’t follow @Steenfox so it’s possible I never would have known about the survivors’ stories or seen their faces. It’s one thing to put something on Twitter, it’s another thing for those tweets to be plucked and highlighted in a story for media coverage. If anyone had become uncomfortable with responding to @Steenfox, she could have deleted her tweet. BuzzFeed probably won’t delete this story.

Regardless of what social media ethics may dictate, given the sensitivity of the subject matter, I think Testa asking @Steenfox first would have been a better display of humanity. 

Mainstream Outlets Coopting Black Culture and Ideas

Another issue that crosses my mind about this whole debacle is that it’s another example of a mainstream uh, white outlets taking ideas from the black community. White media outlets have consistently "borrowed" from our culture, vernacular and overall genius while historically not hiring us to work for them, crediting us for our brainchilds, or inviting us to share in the wealth. BuzzFeed has begun to feature more content by black writers, but this was not always the case. I think they finally realized the power of “Black Twitter”, and by this I mean our overall influence in social media as it’s driven by culture and decided it made “cents” to include content for our demographic. Great, but taking someone’s idea without permission is not. Liza Sabater, otherwise known as @blogdiva on Twitter states, “HOW COME BW (black women) STORIES ARE GOOD ENOUGH TO JACK but we aren't good enough to write them ourselves?” Precisely. The issue of sexual assault is not a black or white one, but the idea for @Steenfox to pose the question in this format was hers. And though BuzzFeed credited @Steenfox, she should have been included in the conversation.

The black media outlet The Root reported on @Steenfox responses to her question, and allowed her to expound upon the experience. They also chose not to use of the victims’ images and Twitter handles, an approach many preferred over BuzzFeed.

I don’t think BuzzFeed should have done this kind of piece. It doesn’t seem to fit their brand
, and therefore they didn't honor the story well. I recently saw a piece on the Today Show on BuzzFeed where they reported that all the employees are under 30, as if that factoid should be impressive. Well, maybe more seasoned professionals would have been less reckless in judgment in how this piece was put together. 

Going forward I hope this situation will make people think twice about the issue of using what’s posted on social media. I also hope (I won’t hold my breath) that mainstream outlets will consider letting us tell our own stories, and be a part of our own ideas and conversations. 

What do you think about this situation?

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Oscars and the Allure of Lupita!

I'm assuming this is how Lupita Nyong'o feels right now having won for Best Supporting Actress for her role in 12 Years a Slave. WERK!!!

For me Lupita Nyong'o's win was the highlight of Hollywood’s biggest night, the 86th annual Oscars, hosted by Ellen Degeneres. We've watched this newcomer light up the red carpet this awards season, and it's great to see her be appreciated not only for her stunning style, but for her talent. Nyong'o's performance in 12 Years a Slave as Patsy was heartbreaking and strengthening all at the same time. Her golden statue was well deserved through an intense and brave portrayal. I hope we see a lot more of this fresh talent.

Check out some of my other favorite moments!

Jared Leto, who has become the resident “white boy crush” won for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Dallas Buyers Club. At 43, I say he's aging just as magically as Pharrell! Loose and wavy, or sporting he “man bun”, we love "Jordan Catalano"!!! 

I loved Pharrel's performance of his Oscar nominated song, "Happy" for Despicable Me 2. He sounded great, and it was a really fun to watch. I was not, however a fan of his red carpet look...

Darlene Love, who appeared in the Oscar winning documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom, brought church to the Oscars when and sang a portion of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow”. All of a sudden, it was like, “What’s happening?”, but it was cool.

Ellen Degeneres, who did a wardrobe change and reappeared later in the show in a spiffy white tux, passed out pizza and introduced Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African American woman to be the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 

Later, Whoopi Goldberg introduced the tribute to the Wizard of Oz. She showed off her red ruby slippers, and striped tights--so Whoopi--so wonderful.

Bette Midler sang "Wind Beneath my Wings". I LOVE THIS SONG! I loved Beaches!!!! I LUUUHH Miss Bette! 

Final highlights of the evening were John Ridley winning for Best Adapted Screenplay for 12 Years a Slave, and the film winning for Best Picture! I love the acceptance speech from Steve McQueen, who did not win for Best Director of the winning film. I never understand how a film can win Best Picture, and the director of the film does NOT win Best Director. That was disappointing, but I am happy 12 Years a Slave, which was produced by Brad Pitt's production company, Plan B, was recognized at the Oscars, as it displayed a part of American history in a way I feel we haven't seen before. Kudos to the entire cast and crew of this incredible film. 

Below, are a few more photos from the evening!

Kerry Washington
Gabourey Sidibe

Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith

Michael B. Jordan --I love this kid so much!!!
Viola Davis
Robin Roberts

What did you enjoy the most about the Oscars?