SCRIPT WRITING—FENCES—AND FRUSTRATION!

Over the past several months, I have taken on the difficult task of writing a screen play. It is difficult for me because all my training and writing has been novels and the two genres are much different. When I reach a point of frustration, as I often do, I walk away from the computer, go to the television and tune into my additional frustration, and that is watching August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Fences as a movie. My frustration is with the main character, Troy, played by Denzel Washington (whom I feel did an excellent portrayal of the character). He is the reason I keep going back to this movie every time I want a break from my primary frustration. The problem is I really want to like Troy because he is a Black man as I am, and even though his struggles with this country occur years earlier than mine, they are similar. But that is where our commonality ends.

I am not sure exactly what Wilson was doing with this character, or if he even cared how we the viewer would feel about Troy. Before deciding to write about this very complicated character, I read a lot of reviews by critics and the most important people of all, those who also saw the movie. One fact that is undeniable, Troy causes an emotional response in people and maybe that was Wilson’s goal. If so, he succeeded. But then what type of emotion did the viewer get, and is that important? I feel that it is! And just as important is what kind of perception or image did he create in the minds of young Black boys and men who saw the movie?

Is it the image of a failed baseball player who never makes it to the major leagues because of racism? Is it the image of a man who brings his paycheck home to his wife every Friday, but then goes out and spends time with another woman because, as he suggests, he needs his space? Is it the image of a man who finds his joy in hanging out in the backyard, drinking gin with his friend and talking about his past escapades? How do you really measure the value of a man who brings a baby he is fathered by another woman, home to his wife of eighteen years and asks her to take on the role of mother? How insensitive is that, and are we supposed to find value in this man because life has thrown him too many curve balls that he just couldn’t hit? Is it the image of a man who berates his son and enters into a physical fight with him because he was responsible for him being in the world and he deserves more respect for that?

I am not sure which of the two frustrations I will manage to overcome, attempting to master the art of writing a screen script or finding some value and worth as a man in Troy. With any luck it will be the first one because, honestly, I don’t think I want to conquer the second one. Because if I do, I will find some value in a man who cheats on his wife, beats his son, and lacks the ability to know that he has made their lives miserable because of his own weaknesses and insecurities.

In my attempt to assess what August Wilson was trying to accomplish by creating this very dysfunctional family, I must ask the question should fiction imitate life or should fiction influence life to make it better? The great Peruvian Nobel Prize winning author, Mario Vargas Llosa, in his creative writing work book, Letters to the Young Novelist, has written that the novelist looks at the world the way it is and then dreams of how it can be better, and that is how he or she should write. He also advises the young novelist that fiction is the window to view the soul of a people. Plays and films also fit into this category. Is Troy’s world what we aspire for our young, and when future generations view that movie will that be the impression they have of us back in the Twentieth and early years of the Twenty-first Centuries. As writers and hopefully, dreamers, do we owe them something much better than the image of Troy? If we don’t, why are we writing?

No doubt August Wilson was a very good playwright, but I also believe the story he tells in Fences is one that most Black people have lived and don’t necessarily need to be reminded of in plays and movies. We deserve something much more enlightening and therefore empowering as a people.

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Two Loves-Two Worlds

Over the past week, our country experienced the very inspiring exposure of two loves emanating from two worlds. Those worlds are best defined as cultures that exist within the European-American and the African-American spheres juxtaposed within the geographical boundaries of the United States. Those two loves, though entrenched in the different cultures, are examples of our oneness. That oneness that is as diversified with all races, religions and ideas as you can experience anywhere in the world.

One of those loves was on display at the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit, Michigan, the church that held the funeral service for Ms. Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul and the epitome of what was and still is good and wonderful about the African American community, one world. Ms. Franklin chose Greater Grace because she sang there for Ms. Rosa Parks funeral.

The other love was on display at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. the magnificent edifice where the soldier, warrior and statesman John McCain’s final service was held. McCain chose the National Cathedral as the appropriate place for a man who had dedicated his life to a career in the Senate and the military.

For seven hours, the service at Greater Grace Temple erupted in a celebration of joy and life as only an African American funeral can do. Its roots lay deep in the past, historically entrenched in one room churches throughout the South right after slavery, and in the urban churches as Blacks made their way to the North seeking a better life. The music was the music of a people’s soul that began as spirituals in the cotton fields and evolved to gospel in the urban areas and brought to life by a gifted writer, Tommie Dorsey.

The call and response are as old as the Black church. It is a technique used to get the congregation to be a part of the service. Baptist ministers are famous for using that as a method to liven the people and that is exactly what happened in Greater Grace Temple. It was appropriate that Ms. Franklin’s home going ceremony be full of life because she certainly was. All seven hundred men, women and children who were fortunate to get a seat inside of the Temple, gave her the love as only they knew how to deliver it.

The warrior/statesman’s funeral was much staider, less life, no call and response, no one was up in the aisles raising their arms and even dancing as was the case in Detroit. But the love was there, and it was displayed in a European-American ceremony. The most compelling examples of these distinct differences was how “Amazing Grace,” was performed by Jennifer Hudson in Detroit and the Brophy Student Ensemble rendition at McCain’s ceremony.

Renee Fleming’s rendition of “Danny Boy” was appropriate for the McCain service and brought tears to Mrs. Cindy McCain. However, when you heard Gladys Knight sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” as a tribute to the memory of Ms. Franklin, you felt the emotions throughout the Temple as the congregation was again on their feet, lifting their arms high in the air and closing their eyes in prayer.

The very important observation to be pointed out is that both services took on the demeanor of the two cultures, but they both showed the deference and respect to the two Americans who, in their own way, represented what is best about this country. And that is very important and much needed in these times of trouble in our land.

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CONVERSATION FROM HEAVEN

Imagine that the blue sky as a curtain covering the window that allows us to look into Heaven opens and we are allowed to view a conversation among some of the leaders of Black people over the past centuries. You might listen in to the following conversation among the following Black leaders

Entering the large cavernous space with no walls and no beginning and ending, you see Dr. Martin DeLany and he takes a seat at the very far end of a large beautiful glass conference table.

Next comes Frederick Douglass sitting at the other end. These two giants of the Nineteenth Century are at opposite ends representing their vastly different opinions on how Blacks could best survive after slavery.

Then you watch as Booker T. Washington strolls into the room and takes a seat on one side directly in middle.

He is followed into the room by Dr. W. E. B. DuBois who sits directly opposite of Washington.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett strolls into the Heavenly space and sits on the same side of the conference table as DuBois.

Fannie Lou Hamer hurries inside and sits on the side of the conference table with Washington.

For this particular session, Dr. DeLany has been designated by a Higher Source to lead the discussion.

 

Dr. DeLany stares down the table at Frederick Douglass.

“You and I, Frederick, first addressed the issue of how we as a race should address the issue of what we are to do after the race is freed from slavery. I wrote a tract at that time, “The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered,” in which I suggested that Blacks must leave this country and find a new home land. A new country and a new beginning would be the only true, rational, political remedy for our disadvantageous position which would never change in this country due to the beliefs of superiority among the European Americans. You argued that moral suasion would work. I argued that these people give no consideration to moral arguments”.

Frederick Douglass responds.

“My response to your solution to our dilemma was that it represented an easy and comfortable evasion of the problem. And it falsely assumes that there is no hope for Blacks in this country, which has over the years become as much their country as any other people. You, my friend, believe racism and prejudice is a permanent state of the white man and therefore, we can never be politically and socially assimilated into this country. His greed and arrogance rob him of any morality and basic humanity is your basic premise which I believe is not correct. I always believed there was hope that eventually the races would come together”.

Booker T. Washington joins in the discussion.

“With all due respect for your scholarship Dr. DeLany, I must agree with Frederick. In my famous, “Address to the Atlanta Cotton Exposition,” back in 1895 I suggested that the two races could be as separate as the fingers on the hand when it comes to social and political equality, but as one when it comes to progress of the nation. My position was that we stay in our place and not be concerned with integration but concentrate on working in those jobs most suited for a people less than fifty years out of slavery. By concentrating on industrial, mechanical, vocational and primarily agricultural pursuits we could prove both individually and as a race that we were fit to join or be allowed into white society. We would eventually evolve to a higher standard of jobs but at that time we were not ready. Back then it was all about racial uplift.”

Dr. DuBois practically leans across the table to address Washington.

“Mr. Washington, I agreed with your belief that our people might have to be common laborers because they are not yet trained for higher professions. But I disagreed with you back then when you dismissed the importance of the mind and the importance of an education of higher learning in the universities. It was necessary that a segment of our population, both men and women, master the arts of literature, philosophy, history in order to elevate our race to a higher standard and help in our cultural awakening as a unique people. I believed it would be this educated, talented tenth that would naturally be the leaders of the race. It was the responsibility of this group to constantly work to rid society of racism. It was the ethical function of black leadership, and they had no choice in the matter. If we can rid society of racism, which was the socio-economic roots of moral degeneracy, then I believed our people would thrive in proportion to the success ratio every other ethnic group enjoyed in the country. However, our talented tenth drowned themselves in cultural elitism and ignored their mission, and I believe when you look down there, you see the division of those who were fortunate to be educated and the millions who were forgotten. The forgotten ones are now beginning to show their resentment in terrible ways”.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett sits straight up and looks at all the others.

“Truth be told, while you all were pondering all these problems in your Ivory Towers our boys and men were being lynched by a mob of white beasts. In light of all the lynching of our boys and raping of our girls, I just don’t understand how you could be content with your accommodationist approach to our problems Mr. Washington. We needed more fighters and less accommodators. I believe we women were more aware of the evils of the other race than were any of you men. At your university, you trained our young girls to be domestics and go into these white homes and clean their filth, take care of their babies, cook their meals, and by the way fight off the advances made by their men, when alone in the room with them. Then we had to come home and take care of our own family. We have always carried the burden of this race and as we observe what is happening today, we are still carrying the responsibility of family. Over the centuries, the burden has gotten heavier. Now we are confronted with a real crisis. At this time in history, after one-hundred-fifty-three years of freedom, whose approach to our survival worked. Of course, we did not try your approach, Dr. DeLany. Most of our people were not going to leave their homes and go back to Africa or anywhere else in the world. Home right here, as difficult as it may have been, was still comfortable and safe to them.”

Fannie Lou Hamer could remain silent no longer. She looks across the table at Dr. DuBois.

“I grew up in the cotton fields of Mississippi. There was more of our people like me than like that group of educated elites that you preached were necessary to save the race. According to you and your people, Dr. DuBois, I guess it was a white man’s education that was the answer to all our problems, but I don’t think it turned out quite that way. We found out down here that his education was not meant to assist us but to suppress us with lies. Then I guess you know them educated ones, that was supposed to come back and teach and assist us, never showed up. They were too busy building their fortune to be concerned with our plight. Class separated us from them just like skin color divided the black from the white. As we constantly get reports from new arrivals here, the class war fare among ourselves is becoming more devastating than what whites can now do. And I’m sorry to have to bring up the problem with the churches and religion. But we all know that when our people first came out of slavery, they put all their hopes in the church with the belief that it would deliver them to a good place. But what the ministers tended to do was deliver themselves to a good place. They failed to teach our people that they must learn to love themselves before they can love someone else. They would preach love your neighbor as yourselves being totally oblivious to the reality of the struggle. We didn’t love ourselves.”

Dr. DeLany now takes control of the discussion since he had been designated as discussion leader by the Higher Source.

“I think we all recognize that we made mistakes during our times as leaders of our culture. However, we need not be so hard on ourselves. We did manage to survive, and it was our fellow brothers and sisters that still made it up the rough side of that mountain and got our people to the place they are now, and it isn’t all bad. It was because of our efforts over a period of one hundred or more years, that finally we were able to get a Black president elected. That was no small accomplishment at all. We can only hope that the country down below does not fall back into bad habits with this new man who claims he wants to make “American Great Again.” I do know if each and everyone of us could return to America we would make it quite clear that the one thing that should not happen is that it will be made great again. Because before just wasn’t that great. Our session has now come to an end and we must all return to our respective responsibilities in this world which we all agree, with no questions is far superior to the one we left down there”.

Like a major blue curtain, the sky covers the window to Heaven and we are returned to our own reality. However, we will return at a later date and time when the sky spreads open like the Red Sea and we will have the pleasure to view and listen to conversations from Heaven once again.

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