The Oscars: Race Quota vs A Damn Good Film! Also, Images from FELONI’s College Short Film, “In Love with Happiness” and on Working for Oscar Award Winner, Faye Dunaway

I definitely understand the need for diversity when it comes to the recognition of talent in any profession. What I did not get was the internet clip I saw of Tyler Perry stating Jennifer Lopez was robbed at the 2020 Oscar Awards, and that she should have been nominated for her debut film production, Hustlers. When Tyler said Jennifer was robbed, I thought to myself, “Well, it must be a damn good film!” After watching Hustlers, I emphatically knew that Tyler and I have unique sensibilities when it comes to what constitutes an Oscar-worthy film, and that’s OK, because it was an entertaining film, for the subject matter. Personally, my vote would have gone to the Joker partly because I like character-study films, and it was well produced (I’m being laconic here, as there is much detail in this film I could speak on). In short, what qualifies as Oscar-worthy to one person may qualify as a “good” film to the next person. It’s all relative to the average film goer, but for Recording Academy members, it’s standard to look at other elements within a film for good measure. Now, whether or not every single member does this without bias … who knows?

Even if Hustlers was being considered for a 2020 Oscar, you have to wonder if Samantha Barbash’s (the real stripper whose life the film is based on) threat to file a $40 million lawsuit against STX Entertainment (the studio behind the film) for defamation and the use of her biography, likeness and other claims of negligence would have negatively impacted the vote. Allegedly, Samantha claims she was approached by a producer of Hustlers who was seeking the rights to her life’s story. However, because they low-balled her, she refused to sign the waiver and the film was made anyway. I suggest you research the rest of this information, as the legal issues are not yet resolved. To date, Hustlers has grossed approximately $160 million worldwide. The budget to make the film was estimated at approximately $20 million.

Should Hollywood Actors and Recording Artists of Color Pool their Earned Millions to Create an Annual Film and Music Award Show similar to the Oscars and Grammys?

I believe Viola Davis and Jordan Peel won Oscars based on the quality of their work, not the color of their skin. It would be a farce to expect the Academy to give someone an Oscar simply to meet a “race quota.” You cannot change the opinion of people who do not see your work as Oscar-worthy. That’s life, as Frank Sinatra would say. Viola Davis is one of the best actors (I don’t use the term “actress”) of the 20th century, I think. I’ve seen every film she has acted in. You could put her in a movie about squirrels and acorns, and her acting would take it to another level making it “a damn good film.” Yes. I am aware of complaints that, in films, she is often paired with white men who sexually, or physically abuse her. Nevertheless, let’s note that it is she, alone, who agrees to accept these roles. Perhaps she is detached from the film industry enough to allow her to follow a dream of saving enough resources to began producing her own films. Or maybe, she just does not give a damn as long as she gets work. Who knows? Then there’s Mahershala Ali. He won two Oscars within two years (2016 and 2018) for Moonlight and Greenbook. In fact, “Moonlight” echoes a theory I have about some males who are overly aggressive, or, in street terms, “act hard.” Here’s my theory: I believe some aggressive males are more likely to have laten homosexual tendencies, or are more likely to be in the closet than most non-aggressive males. For those of you unaware of the “Greenbook,” it is an actual physical book that provided black folks with advice on safe places to eat and sleep when traveling during the Jim Crow-era.

Image of the Ancient Egyptian God, Ptah

Here’s an idea, instead of colored actors and industry recording artists constantly complaining about poor representation at the Oscar and Grammy Awards, I think they should pool some of the millions they earn and use it to create their own annual, star-studded film and music awards. In fact, I suggest they call their new film awards, “The Annual Ptah Film Awards.” I say Ptah because the Oscar statue strongly resembles the statue of the ancient black Egyptian God, Ptah.

Obviously, I’m not as cynical about the film industry as I am about the music industry

Obviously, I’m not as cynical about the film industry as I am about the music industry, although no organization is perfect. During the mid 1990s, I studied Film Theory, Screenwriting and TV/Film Production while attending WSU in Detroit. It was during this time I discovered, and was influenced by, the film styles of Ingmar Bergman, specifically the film Persona. I was also influenced by Jean-Luc Godard, Orson Welles, Fellini, David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick and other filmmakers that are considered avant-garde or unconventional. I also learned about the first black filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux (1884 – 1951). Micheaux released 44 films through the Lincoln Motion Picture Company which was the first movie company owned and controlled by black filmmakers.

I recall reading the book, “Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks” by Donald Bogle who chronicles the images and roles often given to black actors in Hollywood films. That book led me to the discovery of the 1959 film, Imitation of Life (the original version was released in 1934), directed by Douglas Sirk. The film tells the story of two widowed women in the 1950s: one black (the live-in nanny, played by Jaunita Moore), and one white (an aspiring actor who becomes famous and wealthy, played by Lana Turner), both whom struggle with raising their daughters (played by Sandra Dee and Susan Kohner). Although there are growing pains for both women, part of what makes this film poignant is the story line of the black woman whose daughter is bi-racial. While she could pass for white, she is ashamed of her “blackness” and economic status (she does gain access to wealth by association, but not “white privilege”). She constantly hurts her mother by keeping distance between them so that she can live her life as a “white” woman. In one scene, she even goes as far as allowing her friends to assume her mother is her nanny after she unexpectedly shows up at a night club (where she is working as a showgirl). In short, when the black woman dies, her bi-racial daughter experiences exuberant feelings of guilt for how she treated her mother. Honestly, it’s the only film that I have ever spilled a few tears after watching.

Even today, you can see remnants of Imitation of Life’s psychological malady revealed in the current trend of some black male’s rejection of the black woman in favor of white women, or in favor of women who have a similar phenotype as white women. You can also see remnants of this psychological malady exemplified in many black men and women who work in Hollywood i.e. with all the skin-lightening and nasal cosmetic surgery in an attempt to mimic (to get work) the “conventional” standards of beauty commonly used in Hollywood. It’s all a sign of lacking self-love, I think. In fact, even Ice Cube had a nose job.

Image from FELONI’s Experimental Short Film: “In Love with Happiness”

The character, Lyca, expressing to her best friend, Ben, that she thinks she’s “gay.”
© Trak Diamond Records, LLC

In order to pass my Screenwriting class, I was required to write a film script, or a documentary script. So I wrote, produced, directed, filmed and acted in the experimental short film I titled, “In Love with Happiness.” The short is a stylized juxtaposition of two characters who are delusional about their identity in certain areas of life. One story focuses on an angry artist (played by Keith) whose grandiose style of creating art often causes him to misuse his friends in non-empowering art projects. The muse is played by my friend, Talese Harris, who, in real life, is a friend of the Oscar Awarding-winning filmmaker, Spike Lee, who gave her a terse speaking role in his film, “Jungle Fever.” Luckily for me, she was courageous enough to act in my first, student film project. The second story zooms in on an aspiring actor named Lyca (played by me) who, after an unplanned sexual encounter with a good friend, she is catapulted into a sexual identity crisis. Lyca then turns to an unsympathetic friend (played by my friend Ben Hernandez) to help her sort through the dilemma by taking long walks in downtown Detroit and jumping on trampolines (Ben actually had a large trampoline in his backyard). Ben’s advice to Lyca is not to worry about her sexual encounter with a woman because it’s just a passing “phase.” He encouraged her to enjoy life and forget it ever happened. Lyca was not so sure. Ben is an Animationist (in real life as well) who enjoys producing art anonymously.

Ben and Lyca Downtown Detroit on Woodward Ave (in the mid 90s) as they attempt to “walk off” her sexual identity crisis.
© Trak Diamond Records, LLC
Ben and Lyca jumping on a trampoline in his backyard.
© Trak Diamond Records, LLC

After I explained to the actors the message and emotions I was looking for in each scene, I would direct them to improvise some of their lines to achieve these goals … and it worked. For example, in the story about the angry artist and his muse (Talese), I never allowed the her to see what the the artist was creating. I directed her to sit long periods of time holding a red square frame around her face. I could sense her frustration building with this process, which is want I wanted so that she could use that energy for the film’s climax. I directed her to react naturally to the art created by the angry artist and express whatever she thought of it upon seeing it for the first time. I made sure it was the most ridiculous piece of art that she had ever seen in her life!

The Angry-artist with his muse as he creates.
© Trak Diamond Records LLC
© Trak Diamond Records, LLC
The Angry artist brazenly reminding his muse to keep the frame straight.
© Trak Diamond Records, LLC
© Trak Diamond Records, LLC

“I can’t believe I’ve been sitting over there all this time, holding that damn frame, and you’ve been drawing this bullsh-t!”

I filmed the story of the angry artist and his muse inside my campus apartment which was on the first floor of an old historical house that looks like it was taken out of an Edward Hopper painting. It has a natural fireplace, tall solid wood french doors, and beautiful wooden floors that creak as you walked across them (pleasantly annoying). In the final scene, you could actually hear the floor creaking as I filmed the muse walk slowly around the angry artist’s easel to finally see what he has been creating for so long. Upon seeing his art, the look on the muse’s face was priceless. Her improvised lines were, “I can’t believe I’ve been sitting over there all this time, holding that damn frame, and you’ve been drawing this bullsh-t!” I’m 100% confident she ment that! The angry artist had worked on his creation for so long, it created tension between them which forced a fissure, releasing the repressed frustration with the entire project.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t support your art anymore … I don’t believe in creations that destroy.”

The muse disappointed with the angry artist’s “art.”
“In Love with Happiness”
© Trak Diamond Records LLC
Livid, the muse tells the angry artist,
“This is not art!”
© Trak Diamond Records LLC

I loved the that scene because the muse truly appeared to be annoyed by the art, and perhaps even a tad cynical about my motives as the director. For a few minutes, the muse argued with the angry artist about his art, calling it “garbage,” and complained how he wasted her time. Was she actually referring to me? As she reprimands the art, the angry aritst sits self-assured, asserting he does not have to defend, or explain, his work because it’s his art. He adds that she is being “paid’ to sit there and model, not judge him. The muse continued repeating, “This is not art! This is not art! I think you’ve lost your mind.” Keep in mind that the drawing did not include a single feature of a human face, body nor the red square frame (symbolism to represent a hostile environment, though on the “square.”) she held for many hours and days. Based on what the angry artist created, it appears that there truly was never a need for her to be there at all, except (in her mind), to taunt her in the process of creating. In essence, she believed that he used his art as a weapon to control and belittle her. The muse’s last words to the artist before the film fades to black are, “I’m sorry, but I can’t support your art anymore. I can’t. I don’t believe in creations that destroy.” Thus, the rhetorical question continues: What is art, and who gets to decide it’s art? I appreciate my friends for participating in my film project. I enjoyed making the film. I found it fun and hilarious, and my professor gave me an “A” at the end of the semester!

Note: Unfortunately, the quality of the images I’ve posted from “In Love with Happiness” are of low resolution due to transferring the film to VHS and allowing it to sit for two decades. The original source and footage was damaged and some tapes lost. However, I do have some footage of the film short remaining. I may release it for viewing, online, in the future.

Working for Oscar Award-winner, Faye Dunaway, on her film, “Master Class,” was the first gig in film I landed after taking an acting class at WSU.

Working for Oscar award winner, Faye Dunaway (who plays Bonnie in the classic gangster film, “Bonnie And Clyde” directed by Arthur Penn) in her film Master Class was the first gig in film I landed as an extra after taking an acting class at WSU. I ended up receiving a “C” in the class because, for my final exam, where were required to act out a scene, in front of the entire class, based on whatever we selected. Unfortunately, I forgot some of the lines to a monologue I wrote based on Albert Camu’s book, “The Fall.”. In Fays Dunaway’s film, I worked in the scene filmed at Downtown Detroit in Grand Circus Park. The film has yet to be released or completed due to issues you can read more about, in her own words, here in the Independant. My favorite film of Dunaway’s is her role as Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest directed by Frank Perry. A stellar performance is an understatement. She put her soul in that roll. It’s one of those classic films you can watch over and over again, yet it still grabs your full attention, as if watching it for the first time. She was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress in this role but did not win; she should have won, I think.

Faye Dunaway’s Master Class was set in the 1970s. So I was dressed in tall, tan block-heeled boots and faded blue jeans. I was paired with another extra who was a white blonde woman. We were directed to walk across Grand Circus Park, having a conversation, as the main characters performed their parts. We stood out there for two hours working on one scene. In that time, I believe Dunaway had instructed the cinematographers to shoot that single scene at least four times. I recall the sun zeroing in on my forehead causing me to become hot, and my feet were beginning to hurt inside the hot boots I was wearing.

After each take, Dunaway would walk over to the character, say something to him, and get another take of the scene. For each take, the actor appeared to do everything the same way, unless he was messing up his lines, which I could not directly hear. I recall thinking to myself, “She’s really passionate about what ever the actor is doing wrong.” After one of the retakes, a cinematographer close to me began shaking his head, as if he had become impatient and annoyed with Dunaway. A take later, he said something to me, like “Are those boots beginning to bother your feet?” I smiled, but did not respond. I kept my complaints to myself because I understood what it meant to be passionate about something you create and wanting it done your way, exactly as you envision it. Then, out of nowhere, Dunaway walks over to us for a little small talk and adds, “You’re doing fine. Try to walk a little faster,” as we needed to reach a certain point before the scene ended. Her words and voice were kind and reassuring. Initially, I thought perhaps she walked over to us because she saw the cinematographer say something to me and did not want me to follow any direction he may have given without her approval, but I’m not certain. In short, it was a great experience and a pleasure meeting and working for a living legend who does life her way.

Note: Some of my supporters have expressed that I do not share enough of myself with them. I hope they enjoyed the inclusion of some of my past experiences in this post.

Disclaimer: I suggest reading my posts again after a few days, as I sometimes make edits to correct errors that I may have missed, or add additional information that I may have mistakenly left out. Other times, I simply get hacked and they sabotage what I say. LOL

FELONI

www.TrakDiamondRecord.com

Where Indie Music Lives On . . .

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