Friday, August 29, 2008

Nomination Night

From Donna:

It was a completely routine moment—I had just tossed the onions and peppers in a pan to sauté before I added the squash—then I looked over at the TV to see that Nightly News had abruptly switched coverage back to the Pepsi Center to catch Senator Barack Obama’s official nomination by the Democratic Party as their candidate for President of the United States of America. Wow. I was a witness to history in my kitchen cranking a pepper mill. As historic moments go, the memory of this one will be easier on me than say, the memory of Jesse Jackson’s speech at the 1988 convention. Right after that elevated moment, I went down to my basement to find that the water heater had broken and there were two inches of water sloshing across the floor. Last night, when my husband and I finally got to the squash, it was quite tasty—I’m taking that as a good omen.

I had been edgy all week, anticipating the nomination—impatient, unable to find two words to string together that made any difference to me despite all the flashes of thoughts zipping through my head. I had been watching the convention in snatches, because stupid commentary made me want to go through the TV and shake people—like when NY Times columnist David Brooks suggested that Michelle Obama’s speech was a missed opportunity to let people really get to know Barack. What the hell does Brooks want to know? Obama’s shoe size and whether he has a tail? So watching the news at 6:30 was the warm up to my evening of convention viewing. Warm ups are supposed to help you keep from straining yourself, right? But in this case, getting the news cold was a soothing relief.

So, as I seasoned the vegetables, and listened to newscasters recap the hard-fought primary, and preview the fact that Barack Obama will deliver his acceptance speech on the anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream,” speech, it occurred to me that it is appropriate that this first Black person to be a candidate for president of the United States has an African name. Most of us descendents of Africans have no way to trace our real names—the names of our first ancestors brought to this hemisphere. But it is a man with an African name—decidedly different from the names we were given, or took for convenience sake—like Washington, Lincoln or Clinton—who is taking this monumental step, beginning a journey, not ending one. I will be edgy and impatient from now until election day, but I’ll be watching every step of the way and doing whatever I can to further his progress. Not only because he is Black, but because, as Bill Clinton put it, “Barack Obama is on the right side of history.”

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 9:39 AM 0 comments

Monday, August 18, 2008

Does Art = Truth?

Does Art = Truth?

In another post from Sherri James ( about making films, she ponders this question. And in many ways it reflects what rap and hip hop artists have been saying for years. That the music reflects the culture. The question we want to ask is: Is life on the street the only image of African American culture we want to send out into the world? Or is there more--and if there is (which we clearly believe), how do we get it seen and heard?

Responsibility of the Artist Part 2

At its best, an art form tells the truth about our experience, and in doing so, moves us forward as people. But, telling the truth is not always easy and certainly isn't always fun. We must look at ourselves clearly and report without judgment, without criticism, without flinching that which we see. Only then can we break the hold of our limitations. When our art does not tell the truth, it fails us miserably because then it functions only to reinforce stereotypes.

Artists bear the responsibility of waking up the rest of the culture and moving it forward. It is the art that transports us mentally from where we are today to where we can only imagine ourselves being. Who hasn't gotten lost in a painting or a book when, in the moment that you observed it or read it, it took you to another land, another time, another place? That's the great thing about it art – it creates breathing space.

With FAR FROM THE TREE, we hope to bring out the intricacies of African American families – what motivates us to keep secrets; how do our parents feel when we start digging around in their past, drawing back the curtain on things not talked about. You first fell in love with the characters because the book brought out a certain truth about their relationships.

Our job with the film is to honor that truth and bring it to life through our production.

One of the most important elements that helps us tell the truth in cinema is casting. The best actresses know how to find the truth in the moment. Therefore, we've made ANGELA BASSETT our top choice for the role of Celeste English. This role offers an opportunity for an in-depth character study, giving Ms. Bassett the chance to showcase the fullness of her dramatic range. As the seemingly well-put-together older sister, Celeste struggles with a strained marriage, an estranged relationship with her ne'er do well younger sister and an even more disjointed relationship with both her mother and daughter. Conveying the subtleties in these tenuous relationships is what Ms. Bassett does best. So, let's all hope that she agrees to be a part of this picture.

The truth really does set us free. And, we know it when we see it. It's why BOYZ IN THE HOOD and MENACE II SOCIETY resonated so strongly with their audiences. Conversely, the myriad copycats that followed only reinforced stereotypes.

As the producers of FAR FROM THE TREE, it's important to us that we create fully realized representations of Black womanhood. I remember how good it felt to watch WAITING TO EXHALE. That movie created some breathing space to be a Black woman in the United States.

We want to do the same with this film. Hopefully, after you see the movie, you'll hit me on this blog and tell me that you're able to breathe a little easier.

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 11:40 AM 1 comments

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Art = Legacy?

We're back from the NBCC in Atlanta--just and haven't recovered enough to gather our thoughts into a blog yet. But the current post from Sherri at reads like it came directly from one of the hundreds of conversations we had while we were away. We found ourselves in a number of discussions about the responsibility of art, culure and commerce and you will hear more from us in the coming weeks about the convergence and clash of these three elements in contemporary life.

But in the meantime--please check out Sherri's blog this week!

"When governments have crumbled and empires have faded away, what remains to tell the story is the art."


"The Responsibility of the Artist - Part 1."
When governments have crumbled and empires have faded away, what remains to tell the story is the art. To the students in the year 2525 who study our music to know who we are, what will they say to learn that we routinely referred to our women as b's and h's and we thought calling ourselves the n-word was cool? Will it sustain them in the same way that we find power in the words of Langston Hughes? Or will it be so full of self-hate that no motivation can be found?
Check it out. If you like what you read, leave a comment and if you really, really dig what I'm saying, please share it with a friend. The blog can be found at

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 1:07 PM 0 comments
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