Steamfunk * Steampunk * Sword & Soul

Archive for July, 2012

WERE AMOS & ANDY SCI-FI GEEKS? Spencer Williams and the Son of Ingagi

WERE AMOS & ANDY SCI-FI GEEKS? Spencer Williams and the Son of Ingagi

 

Were Amos and Andy Sci-Fi Geeks?

Well, if not, Spencer Williams – the man who portrayed the dreamer, Andrew “Andy” Hogg Brown – certainly was.

For those of you too young to remember the show, or with parents too young to remember it…or for those who have chosen to forget just what Amos n Andy is, it started as a radio comedy series set in the African-American community of first, Chicago, then Harlem. It was written and voiced by Caucasian comedians, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll and originated from station WMAQ in Chicago.

After the program was first broadcast in 1928, it grew to become a huge influence on all the radio series that followed it. The show ran as a nightly radio serial from 1928 until 1943, as a weekly situation comedy from 1943 until 1955, and as a nightly disc-jockey program from 1954 until 1960.

The television adaptation ran on CBS-TV from 1951 until 1953, and continued in syndicated reruns from 1954 until 1966.

Considered by many to be the most offensive television program of all time, Amos n Andy was also one of first TV shows to have a predominantly black cast. Stories mostly centered on the titular characters’ Mystic Knights of the Sea Lodge leader, George “The Kingfish” Stevens and his schemes to get rich, which often included duping his brothers in the Mystic Knights of the Sea Lodge. Andy was particularly dupable. Amos mostly narrated the goings on.

Determined to realize improved images of ourselves in popular culture, the characters in Amos ‘n Andy – including rude, aggressive women and weak black men – were offensive.

Most of the characters – especially, the Kingfish and his wife, Sapphire Stevens – could not engage in a conversation without peppering their speech with faulty grammar and mispronunciations.

The NAACP, bolstered by its 1951 summer convention, mandated an official protest of the program. The organization outlined a list of specific items it felt were objectionable, for example, how “every character is either a clown or a crook,” “Negro doctors are shown as quacks,” and “Negro lawyers are shown as crooks.” As the series aired in June 1951, the NAACP appeared in federal court seeking an injunction against its premiere.

In 1953, CBS reluctantly removed the program from the air.

The Amos ‘n Andy show, however, remained in syndication well into the 1960s and is currently available on DVD. 

 

Spencer Williams

Before Spencer Williams became known to the nation as Andy Brown of Amos n’ Andy, he wrote, directed and starred in numerous “race” films – a film genre which existed in the United States between about 1915 and 1950, consisting of films produced for an all-black audience and featuring black casts.

Approximately five hundred race films were produced. Of these, fewer than one hundred are available for public view. Because race films were produced outside the Hollywood studio system, they have been largely ignored by mainstream film historians.

As a director, Spencer Williams brought the technique of montage, the superimposing of scenes, to race films and is the writer of the first black science fiction movie, Son of Ingagi (1940).

Alfred N. Sack, whose Dallas, Texas-based company, Sack Amusement Enterprises, produced and distributed race films, was impressed with Williams’ screenplay for Son of Ingagi and offered him the opportunity to write and direct a feature film. 

At that time, the only African American filmmaker was the self-financing writer/director/producer Oscar Micheaux.

With his own film projector, Williams began traveling in the southern US, showing his films to audiences. During this time, he met William H. Kier, who was also traveling the same circuit showing films. The two formed a partnership and produced some motion pictures, training films for the Army Air Forces, as well as a film for the Catholic diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Williams’ resulting film, The Blood of Jesus (1941), was produced by his own company, Amnegro (I swear I did not make that up), on a $5,000 budget using non-professional actors for his cast. The film, a religious fantasy about the struggle for a dying’ Christian woman’s soul, was a major commercial success. 

With the success of The Blood of Jesus, Williams was invited to direct additional films for Sack Amusement Enterprises. In the next six years, Williams directed Brother Martin: Servant of Jesus (1942), Marching On! (1943), Go Down Death (1944), Of One Blood (1944), Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A. (1946), The Girl in Room 20 (1946), Beale Street Mama (1947), Juke Joint (1947) and Jesus versus Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny (1948) (Okay, I did make that one up).

Following the production of Juke Joint, Williams relocated to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he joined Amos T. Hall in founding the American Business and Industrial College.

Spencer Williams becomes “Andy”

In 1948, U.S. radio comedians Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll were planning to take their long-running comedy program Amos ‘n Andy to television. The program focused on the misadventures of a group of African Americans in the Harlem section of New York City. Gosden and Correll were white, but played the black lead characters using racially stereotypical speech patterns. They had previously played the roles in blackface make-up for the 1930 film Check and Double Check, but for the television version they opted to use an African American cast.

Gosden and Correll conducted an extensive national talent search to cast the television version of Amos ‘n Andy. News of the search reached Tulsa, where Williams was sought out by a local radio station that was aware of his previous work in race films.

Williams successfully auditioned for Gosden and Correll, and he was cast as Andrew H. Brown. Williams was joined in the cast by New York theater actor Alvin Childress, who was cast as Amos, and vaudeville comedian Tim Moore, who was cast as their lodge leader, George “Kingfish” Stevens.

After the removal of Amos n Andy from the air, Williams, along with television show cast members Tim Moore, Alvin Childress, and Lillian Randolph and her choir, began a US tour as “The TV Stars of Amos ‘n’ Andy” in 1956. CBS considered this a violation of their exclusivity rights for the show and its characters and the tour was brought to a premature end.

Williams returned to work in stage productions. In 1958, he had a role in the Los Angeles production of Simply Heavenly; the play had a successful New York run. His last credited role was as a hospital orderly in the 1962 Italian horror production L’Orribile Segreto del Dottor Hitchcock.

Williams died of a kidney ailment on December 13, 1969, at the Sawtelle Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles, California. He was survived by his wife, Eula. At the time of his death, news coverage focused solely on his work as a television actor, since few white filmgoers knew of his race films. The New York Times obituary for Williams cited Amos ‘n Andy but made no mention of his work as a film director. A World War I veteran, he is buried at Los Angeles National Cemetery.

Recognition for Williams’ work as a film director came years after his death, when film historians began to rediscover the race films. Some of Williams’ films were considered lost until they were located in a Tyler, Texas, warehouse in 1983. His 1942 feature, Brother Martin: Servant of Jesus, is still considered lost.

Most film historians consider The Blood of Jesus to be Williams’ crowning achievement as a filmmaker. Dave Kehr of The New York Times called the film “magnificent” and Time magazine counted it among its “25 Most Important Films on Race.” In 1991, The Blood of Jesus became the first race film to be added to the U.S. National Film Registry.

Film critic, Armond White, named both The Blood of Jesus and Go Down Death as being “among the most spiritually adventurous movies ever made. They conveyed the moral crisis of the urban/country, blues/spiritual musical dichotomies through their documentary style and fable-like narratives.”

Son of Ingagi

Son of Ingagi is about Eleanor and Bob Lindsay inheriting the house of a doctor Helen Jackson, who had just returned from her trip to Africa with gold and a missing link-type creature named N’Gina.

When N’Gina drinks a potion created by Doctor Jackson, it sends him into a murderous rage and he kills the doctor.

The Lindsay family inherits Dr. Jackson’s house – and, unbeknownst to them – the monstrous, murderous N’Gina along with it. 

For what happens next, watch the film. I have embedded it below for your viewing pleasure.

 

Spencer Williams was a multitalented man whose genius and unwavering determination have earned him a place in the League of Extraordinary Black People!

Learn more about Spencer Williams – and other great people and events in Black Science Fiction and Fantasy films – at the Black Science Fiction Film Festival.

 


THE BURNING QUESTION:Is there really such a thing as a Black Science Fiction Movie?

THE BURNING QUESTION:Is there really such a thing as a Black Science Fiction Movie?

On August 4, 2012, the State of Black Science Fiction author’s collective and the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture will host the Black Science Fiction Film Festival in Atlanta, Georgia.

Recently, someone in the State of Black Science Fiction group on Facebook asked “Is there really such a thing as a ‘Black’ Science Fiction movie?”

The film festival will answer that question in a big way, so don’t miss it!

In the meantime, I would like to share my list of the ten most Blacktastic actors in Science Fiction and Fantasy films and television programs. As always, your comments are welcome and encouraged.

Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus in The Matrix trilogy.

Laurence Fishburne’s portrayal of Morpheus in The Matrix films was absolutely brilliant, bringing to life an iconic master martial artist / father figure who is cooler than Yoda and Mister Miyagi put together.

“I was really attracted to the piece because of the dual reality thing,” Laurence Fishburne said, in regard to the role. “I was fascinated by the idea that there was a real world and then another world that was just inside your head. That was the thing that really drew me towards this. The character was wonderful because he didn’t die. I die a lot in movies. Here it was, I got to play this character that is a major force and I didn’t have to snuff it.”

Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian in Star Wars.

People talk as if Star Wars made Billy Dee Williams, however, when the original three Star Wars films hit the big screen, Billy Dee Williams was a big name actor and a sex symbol. He actually brought more name recognition to Star Wars. It’s a fact, fanboys; so sit down, relax and have a Colt 45.

Avery Brooks as Benjamin Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Avery Brooks took this role and ran with it, creating the most badass of all “the Captains”.

On playing Ben Sisko, Avery Brooks had this to say: “Certainly the fact you have a black man in a command position is very important. That is something that goes far beyond just having black people working on a show, which itself is also very important. It goes to children being able to see themselves on screen and visualize that in the future they will be doing something of importance to the world at large. It addresses the situation of having all kinds of people interacting and cooperating for the mutual survival of the planet. The writing was exceptional, and the funny thing is I initially said no to Star Trek. My wife convinced me to go to the audition. She was the one who said, ‘You can’t say no to this.’”

Thanks, Mrs. Brooks. I – and millions of other fans – am forever grateful.

Will Smith as Steven Hiller in Independence Day, J in the Men In Black series of films, Del Spooner in I, Robot, Robert Neville in I Am Legend and John Hancock in Hancock.

The undisputed, undefeated heavyweight champion of the science fiction film! He is the reason I could not present this list as a top ten, as he would – in all fairness – hold at least five of those positions. A Blacknificent actor!

Joe Morton as The Brother in The Brother from Another Planet, Miles Dyson in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Henry Deacon in Eureka.

Joe Morton always gives great performances and while most people recognize him as Miles Dyson in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and as Henry Deacon – the multi-talented super-genius on Eureka, I first became a fan of his work in The Brother From Another Planet, in which he sold the character through facial expressions and body language, as The Brother was “mute”.

Wesley Snipes as Blade in the Blade trilogy and Simon Phoenix in Demolition Man.

Wesley Snipes is one of the greatest action film stars ever!  As Simon Phoenix, he brought an edge and skill to the action of Demolition Man that made what would have been an okay film a good one. Blade, on the other hand, was groundbreaking.

Bullet Time – a special effect / film technique often credited to The Matrix – was actually first seen in Blade. But besides this technological breakthrough, Snipes brought the first serious superhero of African descent to the big screen. Before Blade, our heroes were not characters, they were caricatures. Blank Man and Meteor Man, while interesting, were not embraced as heroes in the Black community. We had enough clowns and buffoons on screen; we had enough “in the hood” movies. We were looking for a hero we could be proud of. Someone we could root for. Blade is that hero. Thanks, Wesley!

Denzel Washington as Eli in The Book of Eli, Doug Carlin in Déjà vu and Ben Marco in The Manchurian Candidate.

Denzel Washington is such a great dramatic actor, that we often forget he has starred in several science fiction films and even starred in an excellent horror film (Fallen).

Denzel Washington is my favorite actor and when I wrote the soon-to-be-released sword and soul novel, Once Upon A Time In Afrika, I envisioned him as Alaafin Rogba, ruler of the Oyo Empire. One day, that vision will become reality. You hear that Denzel? One day, that vision will become reality.

James Earl Jones as Darth Vader in Star Wars and Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian.

Although I am a fan of several actors, I only consider one to be an idol of mine. That actor is James Earl Jones. For more on why he is one of my idols check out http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/02/18/state-of-black-scifi-2012-my-tribute-to-science-fiction-and-fantasy-icon-james-earl-jones/.

Who could possibly forget the haunting voice behind the mask in Star Wars? And James Earl Jones portrayed one of the most menacing – and popular – villains in film – Thulsa Doom.

Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura in Star Trek.

Often underrated as just a futuristic secretary in a short skirt, we forget how important Nichelle Nichols is to Black fandom, women’s fandom and, indeed, fandom in general.

Nichols’ role as Uhura was unprecedented – a lead character of African descent who was not a servant.

However, feeling that the character was not as fully developed as those of her peers, Nichols planned to leave after the first season to return to Broadway. She reconsidered when a fan of the show approached her at an NAACP function where she was speaking. That fan was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When she told him of her plans, Dr. King replied, “Stop! You cannot! You cannot leave this show! Do you not understand what you are doing? You are the first non-stereotypical role in television. Nichelle, for the first time, not only our little children and people can look on and see themselves, but people who don’t look like us, from all over the world…for the first time on television, they can see us, as we should be – as intelligent, brilliant, people! People in roles other than slick tap dancers, and maids, which are all wonderful in their own ways, but for the first time we have a woman, a woman, who represents us and not in menial jobs, and you prove it.”

Zoe Saldana as Neytiri in Avatar and Uhura in Star Trek (2009).

To create the aliens in Avatar, the cast acted on a bare stage while wired into performance-capture suits and headgear. We never see Zoe Saldana’s real face, but through her incredible acting, she brought the 10’ tall, blue-skinned Neytiri to life and we related to her.

Avatar represented a great leap forward for film technology and the viewer’s experience and an even greater one for the career of this great actress, who got her first shot at stardom in the movie Drumline.

The actress learned martial arts, archery and horseback riding for her role and was the first of the cast to master the Na’vi “language”. According to director James Cameron, “Zoe was the first one to really have to learn the language. As she owned the language, then everyone else had to match her accent and her pronunciation.”

Saldana admits that the idea of her own face and body never appearing in Avatar did bother her, but only for “about two nanoseconds,” the actress said. “It is a human condition for us to be prone to vanity – especially actors; but I feel this role has been the best role ever to cross my path. When I see Neytiri, I actually see me, in its entirety.”

And now, for your viewing pleasure, here is Wake, a short horror film from up-and-coming director, Bree Newsome. A great work of Black Speculative Fiction. Enjoy!


Steampunk: What in the hell is it, really?

Steampunk: What in the hell is it, really?

Many will argue that when H. G. Wells was writing, people believed in the possibility of time machines, making animals sentient and traveling to the center of the earth and finding live dinosaurs down there.

Now, if what H. G. Wells wrote was science fiction and most people agree that – along with Jules Verne – Wells created the model for anachronistic fiction (i.e. Steampunk, Dieselpunk and the like), then is Steampunk science fiction?

Yet, you find Steampunk on the fantasy bookshelves, not the science fiction ones. Unless, of course, the Science Fiction and Fantasy titles are, annoyingly, combined onto one set of shelves, a la Barnes and Noble.

So, is steampunk science fiction, or is it fantasy? 

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “Steampunk”, please check out http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/05/24/punk-101-steampunk-dieselpunk-and-a-three-year-old-genius/, or http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/01/23/state-of-black-sci-fi-2012-why-i-love-steampunk/.

The Difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy

Both science fiction and fantasy present things that do not exist. All fiction does this, of course. That’s what makes it fiction. But science fiction and fantasy include not only imaginary characters and events but settings, creatures, concepts, or devices that are qualitatively beyond our normal, everyday experience.

While Science Fiction and Fantasy share some characteristics, there is a clear and unambiguous distinction between them.

Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are two of the earliest true modern science fiction writers. Both stretched the bounds of what was known at the time to posit things that did not exist. Unlike earlier, and even much of the other speculative fiction of the time, though, they based their plot devices on extrapolations from current science and technology. Previous visits to improbable lands, encounters with strange creatures, and even fictional travels through time were often the result of a dream or mystical insight. Both Wells and Verne presented their readers with fantastic machines, but these were based on scientifically explained principles. They included strange creatures, but they were natural rather than supernatural, with abilities explainable, at least in theory, solely in terms of biology and evolution.

Fantasy is less constrained. It can include just about anything – magic wands; fire-breathing dragons; shiny, shimmering vampires; werewolves; genies in lamps; lizard men and sentient swords. These things just ‘are’ and don’t need to be explained from a scientific perspective.

While the magical elements must be internally consistent, they do not need to be based on known science. If the story includes supernatural or mythological characters or forces that are not supported with plausible sounding techno-babble, then it is fantasy.

When asked to explain the difference between science fiction and fantasy, Isaac Asimov, the prolific writer of science and science fiction, replied, “Science fiction, given its grounding in science, is possible; fantasy, which has no grounding in reality, is not.” We authors can – at times – be quite presumptuous and this statement is presumptuous to the nth degree, as Asimov implies that he knows everything that is possible and all that is real. He doesn’t (didn’t – he passed away in 1992). We don’t.

A better distinction was provided by the science fiction writer, Robert J. Sawyer who said, “There’s discontinuity between our reality and fantasy; there’s continuity between our reality and science fiction.”

He is saying that fantasy proposes the existence of things we cannot yet explain rationally. Science fiction, on the other hand, must present some rationale for how such things could exist and demands a plausible theoretical explanation rooted in what we currently know. The explanation does not need to answer such questions in detail, but the reader must feel that a scientific explanation is possible and links back to our current scientific understanding of the real world.

Science fiction is supportive of a scientific outlook and optimistic about humanity’s ability to use science to explain the universe and create a brighter future. Fantasy, which has a mystical basis, supports the idea of the existence of things science cannot explain or deal with.

 There are those who believe a magic wand is no less implausible than a TV remote control or that the binary system of African divination is as viable as Boolean logic. Both types of people can, however, read and enjoy science fiction and fantasy.

Stories from both genres can be insightful, thought provoking and evoke a sense of wonder. Both genres can take us to strange and fascinating worlds.

Science Fantasy:

Now, there are stories in which both magic and science work, science is so sophisticated it simulates magic, or characters possess psychic powers so strong they resemble magic. A term that has been applied to these stories is ‘science fantasy.’

An example would be Star Wars, a fantasy adventure with science fiction elements. The fantasy element is the Force, which is described as a mystical ‘energy’ field. The science fiction elements, obviously, are extraterrestrial aliens and space ships, although there is never much of an explanation for how the latter are supposed to work. Another example would be Van Helsing – a popular Steampunk movie.  The science fiction element is the weapons and even the creation of Frankenstein’s monster. The fantasy aspects of Van Helsing include the existence of vampires and werewolves.

Stories involving time travel are generally considered science fantasy as well.

So, if Steampunk is, science fantasy, why not just call it – and Star Wars, Van Helsing and time travel stories, for that matter – fantasy?

Well, even the best Steampunk story – a story like Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman Books 1 & 2 (shameless plug) – may not appeal to someone who strictly enjoys high fantasy. A pure fantasy reader may not appreciate a story with a dwarf who wields a steam-powered war-hammer or an elf who pilots a dirigible.

The hard science fiction fan would, most likely, loathe the inclusion of Orcs, fighting alongside the Cassad Empire in the far reaches of the Dark Universe.

So, the science fiction elements make it not purely fantasy, but the fantasy elements make it not purely science fiction either.

And the debate continues as to just what Steampunk is.

I asked the members of the State of Black Science Fiction – a group of which I am a proud, founding member – whether Steampunk is Science Fiction or Fantasy and got some interesting answers. I thank all of them for their insight and happily share them with you.

Cm Talley, noted P-Funk scholar and author: “Well, there’s very little science involved, so, it is very definitely fantasy. If there are elements of Wellsian aliens or Vernsian explorations, then you might straddle the ‘science’ line, but for the most part it’s a variation of historical fiction. Steampunk uses a different paradigm: post-feudal, post Age of Reason, New World colonization. Antebellum to height of industrial revolution to Reconstruction, Gilded Age (Victorian Era if you’re British). I call it the ‘alternate history’ branch of fantasy.”

Diop Malvi, author: “Always considered Steampunk/funk as science fiction of the alternate world variety.”

Valjeanne Jeffers,author of the Immortal series of novels and the Steampunk novel, The Switch II: Clockwork: “Steampunk didn’t just come into being – it’s been around for a while. Think Adam Ant; Sherlock Holmes; and the movie, Time After Time (based on H.G. Well’s The Time Machine).

Steampunk is an island of fantasy – of escape – within our technological, very stressful 21th century. Just like every other type of speculative fiction. And a way of making one’s own personal statement.

Someone on a Steampunk blog, described it as ‘poorly defined’. Really? Seriously? How about open to experimentation and imagination. Steampunk is a glorious mixture of other fantasy/SF genres. And the settings and plots reflect this – plots set in the post-civil war; Victorian England; Post-Apocalyptic America; or a futuristic world, as in my Steampunk story: The Switch II: Clockwork .”

Maurice Broaddus, author of The Knights of Breton Court series of novels and the Steampunk story, Pimp My Airship: “Alternate history, which so much of Steampunk is, falls under science fiction.”

Vincent Moore, Senior Media Correspondent at Komplicated.com and author of the Total Recall comic book series: “I agree with Maurice. Where most Steampunk gets going is the argument about what would have happened if the Babbage Difference Engine actually started the Computer Age early. Everything else descends from that argument.”

Geoffrey Thorne, writer for USA network’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Ben 10: Ultimate Alien and TNT’s Leverage.: “It’s sci-fi if it uses science as its central technological engine. It’s fantasy if there are dragons and wizards powering the stuff.”

Cynthia Ward, Market Reporter for the SFWA Bulletin and – with author Nisi Shawl – teaches the workshop Writing the Other: Bridging Cultural Differences for Successful Fiction: “Alternate histories are usually classified as science fiction, but then the Soulless/Umbrella Protectorate series, by Gail Carriger, is urban fantasy with its parallel-Victorian werewolves, vampires, and ghosts. So I’d say the content of the individual Steampunk titles determines whether they’re science fiction or fantasy (or science fantasy).”

Ronald Jones, author of the novels Chronicle of the Liberator and Warriors of the Four Worlds: “I’d say it depends on the author. Steam technology is real world, based upon real science and engineering principles. Add steam tech to a fictional tale, create a fantastical setting, but don’t introduce magical elements, your Steampunk story will be science fiction. If magic is added to your story then I would consider it fantasy.”

Alicia McCalla,  ‎author of the Teen Dystopian novel, Breaking Free: Balogun Ojetade I think it’s both depending upon the direction the story takes. Alternate History with steam power would be more like Science Fiction but a new or alien world that uses steam technology would be more like Fantasy. Hoping you find a way to explain that. LOL!”

Hmm…so many opinions.

Maybe that is another reason I love Steampunk / Steamfunk. It freely draws from science fiction, fantasy, horror and history, yet is not bound by any of them.

Perhaps Steampunk is just…Steampunk.

 

As always, I am interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter. Please share. 


DOING AWAY WITH TRADITION: The Savior of Black Entertainment!

DOING AWAY WITH TRADITION: The Savior of Black Entertainment!

Now, before some “traditionalist” catches me coming out of Whole Foods and busts my head to the white meat with a ball-peen hammer, let me explain.

Calling something “traditional”, or oneself a “traditionalist”, or referring to “traditions” is often an implication of Right and Wrong. However, a tradition, in actuality, is a ritual, belief or object passed down within a society, still maintained in the present, with origins in the past.

I am an African traditionalist. For me, that means I practice a spirituality that predates Judeo-Christian religion on the African continent and has been passed down, for eons within Yoruba society. Although I do consider my spirituality to be right and exact (or else, why practice it?), I do not consider someone else’s to be wrong. However, for many, the term traditional is used to say “Hey, what I do is the right way and your way is bullshit.

Filmmaking is full of “traditions”. These traditions are “the way things are done”, they are “industry standard”, they are “what is expected and accepted”, implying that there is a correct way to do things and deviations from that way are incorrect and unacceptable.

One such long-standing and entrenched tradition is the significance of the Short Film.

The Short Film is generally accepted to be significant to the emerging and aspiring filmmaker primarily, as learning experience and secondly, as a calling card. The short film allows you to gain experience without the overhead. Similarly, as a calling card, the short film serves as a demonstration of your abilities as a filmmaker in order to convince potential investors to trust you with the responsibility – and budget – to make a longer project.

The theory is that a good short film allows you to proclaim “If this is what I can do in 10 minutes of screen time, on a shoestring budget, just imagine what I could do with 90 minutes and millions of dollars!”

Learning experience; calling card. If this is what short films are for they have epically failed on both accounts.

Learning Experience

The short film fails as a learning experience because making a short film only really teaches you about making short films. The structures, patterns and conventions of short film have little to no relationship to feature films.

A short film is not just a feature film shoved into a tiny house. A short film, simply by its duration, cannot fully expand your understanding of the elements of story, character, theme, myth and metaphor.

Furthermore, a short film will not prompt you to ask who your audience is; what they expect; what they want; what excites and challenges them; or how they will respond.

Ironically, film schools all over the globe make short films the fundamental learning experience, but spend nearly 100% of their class time discussing and analyzing feature films. That is like going to a karate school, studying day after day, month after month, year after how to snatch a man’s torso off and then, for your black belt exam, having to run like hell from some 126 pound orange belt. While running is sometimes the best strategy and a hasty retreat can be an art in itself, it really proves nothing about competence in the snatch-off-a-torso technique.

Now, if you are happy making short films as a mode of artistic expression, more power to you. However, I would wager that most of you aspiring filmmakers want to make feature films and will do so as soon as the budget allows.

Calling Card

No matter how dope / raw / funky / cold / hot your short film is, if your intention is to make bigger, longer dramatic works, it will largely fail to serve your intent. Short films do not demonstrate the crucial things that fill financiers with confidence. A short film, regardless of how “good” it is, can’t effectively demonstrate you can sustain character arcs and it doesn’t show you understand narrative structure.

A short film does not prove you know how to develop a story over time, or construct consistent dramatic tension and release. A short film doesn’t demonstrate you understand genre and know how to attract an audience.

Without these things there is no real evidence you can effectively make a viable feature film.

Well, if not short films, then what?  Is there something better?

Lacking time and resources to make a feature film or a TV pilot, the answer is the web series, or webisode.

What is a Webisode?

A webisode – also known as web originals, web shows, web series, and online series – is a show in episodic form released online, or in some cases, across various mobile platforms. The series is created to live on the web and individual shows within a web series tend to run between 3 minutes and 6 minutes, with an entire season, from beginning to end, averaging an hour to an hour and a half.

When making a web show, the question is what kind of web show will you make? While web series take many forms, typical categories include sci-fi/fantasy (The Silent City; Osiris: the Series), comedies (Awkward Black Girl; 12 Steps to Recovery) and dramas (Touye Pwen: Kill Point; Celeste Bright).

Advantages of the Web Series
While most producers and financiers may currently ask to see your short film and inquire what festivals it has been in, many are now asking where your web series website is and how much traffic you webseries gets.

The advantages of the web series, as both learning experience and calling card, are myriad and obvious.

The web series is resource-viable. It takes no more money, technology or logistics to make an episodic online series than it does to make a short film.

The web series can easily find a far larger international audience than a short film on the festival circuit ever could. In doing so the web series proves the ability of the filmmaker to create for, gather, keep and motivate viewers.

While webisodes are generally short, the nature of their spacing and structure connects very well to feature film narrative turning points, and television episodes and seasons.

The web series may be small scale but the core structure is tangibly applicable and demonstrable, unlike most short films which – like running away, in relation to snatching off a man’s torso – offer little direct overlap.

In regard to the web series, transmedia – the development of stories across multiple forms of media in order to deliver unique pieces of content over multiple channels – is part and parcel of what a web series is. Where short and feature film projects the world over are being asked to add these elements (websites, trailers, games, etc), the web series is integrated tightly to this model from the start.

A good short film can be a great work of art but emerging and aspiring filmmakers need much more than a short work of art to build a career. The short-format, online, episodic webseries is the most dynamic, audience-driven, self-publicizing, learning vehicle independent filmmakers have ever had access to.

Find Your Audience

No matter how good your story is…if you can’t find someone to watch it, then you’re not likely to get much traction from your work.

If you can’t sit down and easily identify what kind of person will like your show and name five places that person might go to on the internet to hype your series, you will have a hard time getting the word out about your masterpiece.

As much as you may dread the idea, you’ll have to put in major work in order to alert the masses to your series. You have to market and promote. Even if your series is the best ever, you may have to work just as hard to convince people to watch as you did to make it.

However, within the last year more money has been devoted to original web content than at any time in the past. Youtube recently committed $100 million to nurturing new web-based talent. And Hulu has earmarked a half billion dollars for original content. Yep, $500 million.

Much of this interest comes from web series demonstrating their ability to reach larger groups of people and generate revenue. Most successful web shows appeal to very specific niche audiences and then grow from there.

That growth, or course, is a function of perseverance. If you can produce a series, find an audience and keep it, then the industry might just catch up to you with sponsors.

Five Keys to Success

  1. Have Something to Say – With the cost of filmmaking dropping all the time, creating your own series can be enticing, but you have to have something to say. Have a story to tell. No matter what your topic, the story needs to be compelling.
  2. Manage Your Imagination – Scale down your vision into something that’s shootable; something that you can make without waiting for approval or money. The greatest advantage of a producing a web series is that you do not need anyone’s okay to make it, and you don’t need anyone’s funding. You can shoot something compelling and engaging without lots money as long as you remain realistic about your ability to shoot it within the confines of your resources.
  3. Use The Resources at Hand – There are many people around you that can help you produce your project. There are actors, editors, sound people, hair and make-up people, wardrobe experts and camera operators who will work with you for little to no money because, like you, they seek to build experience and their portfolio. Also recruit talented friends and family members. Hiring your cool uncle Rollo to be your cinematographer might not be a great idea unless he has some training in film and experience as a director of photography and camera operator.
  4. Be a Leader – If it is your web series, then you are the leader. Everyone is looking to you as the captain of the ship. And trust me, you will be held responsible for everything – from your assistant director showing up drunk to an actor’s costume being a size too small because they chose to binge on Big Macs the night before a shoot. Have a plan. If not, then you are in for a world of grief and your project will probably go nowhere.
  5. If You Build It, Money Will Come – This might sound unrealistic, but it has been proven time and again that if you do good work consistently, the money will come – whether someone wants to buy your web series, or buy your talent and have you put the same effort into a television show or a feature film. Do not limit yourself to being a writer or a web-series producer – you are a creator. Create!

The Webseries: Savior of Black Entertainment?

A rapidly increasing number of directors, producers and writers are looking to the Web to make black shows on our own terms.

New series that target the Black community are popping up every month.

Savior or not, this emergence of original Web programming is, indeed, good news for black art and expression.

In regard to our project, Rite of Passage, co-producer, Milton Davis and I are deciding whether to produce and pitch the show as a television series for independent television networks that celebrate the Black experience, such as Bounce TV (http://www.bouncetv.com/) and ASPiRE TV (http://www.aspire.tv/) or produce it as a web series.

Which do you think we should do?


Do Black People Really Read This Stuff? High Fantasy, Low Fantasy & A “Racist” Publisher named Milton

Do Black People Really Read This Stuff?

High Fantasy, Low Fantasy & A “Racist” Publisher named Milton

“Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible.” – Rod Serling

The words ‘Fantasy Fiction’, more often than not, evoke images of faraway 14th Century (or earlier) kingdoms. Misty lands of green shires, towering castles, fire-breathing dragons, unicorns, orcs and busty wenches in chainmail bras. These images become even more powerful when played out in the mind in a Pen & Paper Role-Playing Game (for more on role-playing games, please check out http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/06/10/the-psychology-of-role-playing-games-and-the-crazy-folks-who-play-them/ and http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/01/19/racism-in-role-playing/).

We are attracted to fantasy fiction and role-playing games because role-playing adventure, imagining yourself the hero in a great fantasy story and storytelling are crucial, formative experiences that are as real and memorable as any heroic feats on the bidding floor, basketball court or football field.

In a fantasy role-playing game, you conquer dragons, grow in power and save the day.

Once an event has passed into memory, it’s the feeling of accomplishment, reward, mutual achievement and victory that lingers. Why or how you feel these feelings is irrelevant. The triggering event no longer matters. What remains is how that memory resonates and the lessons that stay with us – how to strategize and think on your feet; how to use your imagination to solve problems; how to be part of something bigger than yourself.

Real or “true” stories that occur in non-fiction may sometimes be interesting, but in many cases, the plot is “alien” to our mind and we do not get any learning experience from it because we cannot relate to it.

Non-fiction  informs without enriching, whereas fantasy stories have basic themes and plots that express deep experiences, problems, and challenges we all face in our growth and development.

The role of the unconscious in our development and the notion of an unconscious that is formed by our inherited experiences embodied in the images of art, suggests something further about why reading matters so much to us and about how it influences us. Our identity – the way we perceive ourselves and relate to the world – can be shaped through the fantasy literature we read.

Engaging in the simulative experiences of fantasy literature can facilitate the understanding of others who are different from ourselves and can augment our capacity for empathy and social inference.

As we become immersed in the lives of the characters in fantasy stories, we develop para-social relationships with those characters and have strong emotional responses to the stories.

These responses suggest that frequent readers of fiction will improve their social skills through reading, an idea contrary to the common “bookworm” stereotype, which portrays “bookworms” as lonely, shy, depressed and friendless. However, studies suggest that the more fiction a person reads, the better socially adapted they are.

Fantasy – and its subgenres – allows the author to explore aspects of the world around the reader and its problems, thus offering the reader an experience of intellectual as well as emotional adventure. Fantasy books provide the opportunity for us to connect to – and sympathize with – our heroes and heroines.

Sub-Genres of Fantasy

Contemporary Fantasy

Stories set in the “real world” in contemporary times, in which, it is revealed, magic and magical creatures secretly exist, either living in the interstices of our world or leaking over from alternate worlds. Fantasy stories in which magic is not a secret kept from the masses does not fit into this sub-genre.

Dark Fantasy                                                      

Stories that focus on elements usually found in the horror genre but which take place in a sword and sorcery or high fantasy setting. Dark fantasy is occasionally used as a synonym for supernatural horror, to distinguish horror stories that contain elements of the supernatural from those that do not. For example, a story about a werewolf or demi-lich could be described as dark fantasy, while a story about a serial killer who eats his victims would simply be horror.

Heroic Fantasy

Heroic fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy literature which chronicles the tales of heroes and their conquests in imaginary lands. Stories tend to be intricate in plot, often involving many peoples, nations and lands. Grand battles and the fate of the world are common themes, and there is typically some emphasis on a universal conflict between good and evil.

High Fantasy

The term high fantasy (also epic fantasy) generally refers to fantasy that depicts an epic struggle between good and evil. The world in high fantasy is usually set in an alternative, entirely fictional (“secondary”) world, rather than the real, or “primary” world.

Low Fantasy

Low Fantasy stresses realistic themes in a fantasy setting. It sometimes refers to stories that don’t emphasise magic overtly, or stories that contain a cynical world view. The effect of the fantastic infringing on real life in low fantasy fiction is usually either humorous or horrific – a supernatural onslaught against reason; or comedic or nonsensical plots that can result from the introduction of fantastic features.

Magical Realism

Magical Realism presents fantastic and mundane elements side-by-side as if there is no conflict between the two. Magical elements blend with the real world and the story explains these magical elements as real occurrences, presented in a straightforward manner that places the “real” and the “fantastic” in the same stream of thought.

Superhero Fantasy

The Superhero Fantasy has, at its heart, characters with super powers and / or unusual abilities. The heroes and villains are very much like those you would find in a comic book, they just exist in a fantasy setting.

Sword and Sorcery

These types of stories usually include (with a few notable exceptions) sword-play, magic, and a medieval setting. An element of romance is often present, as is an element of the supernatural. Unlike works of high fantasy, the tales, though dramatic, focus mainly on personal battles rather than world-endangering matters.

Sword and Soul

Sword and Soul  – like Sword and Sorcery – includes sword-play and magic. The adventures, however, are usually set in non-medieval, non-Eurocentric settings and the main characters are of African-descent. These stories are usually more spiritual than Sword and Sorcery and are more diverse in their styles of storytelling.

Now, do people of African descent – i.e. Black folks – read fantasy stories? Well this person of African descent does and so do my close friends, my siblings and my children. The Black people I know who do not read fantasy fiction certainly watch it, with Game of Thrones and period martial arts movies, like Hero and Kung-Fu Hustle being favorites and said they would read fantasy if the books had Black heroes.

Why do the same people who watch fantasy movies and television shows that feature few, if any, Black people – and none as the hero – refuse to read fantasy stories unless the hero is Black? Because a book – and often even a story – requires a greater investment of time, contemplation and emotions than a film or television show.

If you are going to invest so much of yourself, you have to relate to the character and Black people have grown weary of seeing themselves as the sidekick, noble savage, or the guy-who-dies-by-page-thirty-five. We do not relate to that and after years of such treatment in fantasy novels, we no longer trust those novels to show us in a positive light.

Now how, unless at some point we read those novels, would we know we receive such treatment in fantasy? So, Black folks do – or rather, did – read fantasy…and will again…

When we get it right.

Several authors – yours truly included – are getting it right. We write fantasy with Black protagonists – heroes who look like us. A few of these authors and their novels include:

Milton J. Davis

  • Meji, Book 1 & Meji, Book 2 – Sword & Soul
  • Changa’s Safari, Book 1 & Changa’s Safari, Book 2 – Sword & Soul
  • Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology (Editor / Publisher; Contributing Author)– Sword & Soul
  • Sword and Soul Adventures – Sword & Soul (Graphic Novel)

Valjeanne Jeffers

  • Immortal, Books 1 – 4 – Dark Fantasy

L.M. Davis

  • Interlopers – YA Contemporary Fantasy
  • Posers – YA Contemporary Fantasy

Wendy Raven McNair

  • Asleep – YA Superhero Fantasy
  • Awake – YA Superhero Fantasy

Balogun Ojetade

Charles R. Saunders (the father of Sword & Soul)

  • Imaro, Books 1 – 4 – Sword & Soul
  • Dossouye, Books 1 & 2 – Sword & Soul

Recently, author Milton Davis, who is also the owner of MVmedia, which publishes his own works, as well as the works of others – including my novel, Once Upon A Time In Afrika – was accused of being a racist because in his submission guidelines for the upcoming Steamfunk anthology, he seeks stories with main characters of African descent. In Griots and Griots II: Sisters of the Spear, this was also a requirement for submission.

Other authors came forward and blasted the accuser, showing how ignorant it is to accuse someone of racism because they desire to see someone that looks like themselves – someone long erased from fantasy stories – in the stories they read and invest their money into publishing.

When I told Milton of the accusation, he simply said “Then, I must be getting it right.”

Yep, Milton, you are.

For a few short stories in the fantasy genre, check out:

How Adjoa Became King: http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/07/12/how-adjoa-became-king-a-sword-soul-tale/ by Balogun Ojetade

The Hand of Sa-Seti: http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/02/23/the-hand-of-sa-seti-a-short-story-of-steampunk-and-sword-soul-by-balogun/ by Balogun Ojetade

Old Hunter: http://www.scribd.com/doc/99387520/Old-Hunter by Milton Davis

 


STEAMPUNK, SUPERHEROES & SOFT SCI-FI: Kickass Women Warriors, African Superheroes & A Mystical Box Take Atlanta by Storm this August!

STEAMPUNK, SUPERHEROES & SOFT SCI-FI:

Kickass Women Warriors, African Superheroes & A Mystical Box Take Atlanta by Storm this August!

 Science Fiction, Fantasy and Steampunk fans; fans of independent films; and fans of Black cinema, take note: The State of Black Science Fiction authors’ collective and the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture has a festival just for you.

On Saturday, August 4, 2012, the Auburn Avenue Research Library will be host to the State of Black Science Fiction Film Festival (for more on the festival, check out http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/05/31/adapting-stories-into-screenplays-and-a-brief-history-of-the-first-steamfunk-movie-video/ and http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/06/27/harriet-tubman-honest-abe-and-thomas-alva-edison-movies-and-the-age-of-steam/).

This festival is screening four amazing short films:

1.      Afro-Man & the Protectors of the Book of Knowledge by Kofi Michael Johnson

In this animated masterpiece, Afro-Man and The Protectors of the Book of Knowledge unite to combat the diabolical Ultra-Igno, who plans to dominate the world by means of bringing in to existence the New World Order of Ignorance.

 2.      The Becoming Box by Monique Walton

A Science Fiction short film that follows a family of three siblings, who must deal with the mysterious appearance of a portal in their backyard, following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In the vein of Octavia Butler, the Becoming Box deals with recovery, rebirth, and reinvention.

 3.      Rite of Passage: Initiation by Balogun Ojetade; based on a story by Milton Davis

In this Steampunk short film, Freedom fighter, Dorothy, must overcome hardship – and survive a brutal battle with her iron-fisted mentor, Harriet Tubman – in order to become a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

 4.      A Single Link by Balogun Ojetade

After suffering a brutal rape at the hands of a martial arts champion, Remi Fasina decides to gain closure and empowerment by fighting her attacker in the first professional fight between a man and a woman. 

Join Remi in her powerful and touching journey as she grows to fight, not just for herself, but for all women and girls who have suffered abuse at someone’s cruel hands.

Do not miss the world premiere of this magnificent film!

Two of the filmmakers and one actress, who is a star of two of the films being screened, were kind enough to provide this author with insight into their Blacknificent film projects. I would now like to share their thoughts.

 

KOFI MICHAEL JOHNSON

Kofi Michael Johnson – a native of Rochester, New York – has worked extensively in the multimedia field for over 10 years. His love for visual art was developed during his studies at the famed School of the Arts High School, based in Rochester, New York; The Art Institute of Atlanta; and Westwood College, as an animation major.

Kofi was one of the first to produce and self publish a comic book that features an African-American super hero, even going on to produce a special series in conjunction with the American Cancer Society to promote non-tobacco use among the urban youth.

Kofi has been featured in several newspapers and magazines, including About Time, Rochester Magazine, Reality Magazine, The Sentinel, The Democrat & Chronicle, City Paper, and Creative Loafing.

To his credit, Kofi has directed 10 music videos, including two filmed in Africa. He has also worked as a story board artist, comic book illustrator, camera operator, and video editor.

Finally, Kofi is the founder of Afrikom Media Group and Afro-Man Kids Space, a positive social network targeting youth of African descent.

Kofi can be reached at http://www.afrikommediagroup.com/Our%20Focus.html and http://www.afromankidsspace.com/.

What is Afro-Man and the Protectors of the Book of Knowledge about?

Afro-Man & The Protectors chronicles the stories of a young band of super powered teens who were given the task of protecting the book of knowledge – a mystical book that holds all ancestral knowledge. Many want this book, especially Ultra-Igno, for if they do get their hands on it they will have the power to rule the world. Kofi – aka Afro-Man – recruits his friends, who make up The Protectors.

What is your role in the making of the series and how did you become a part of this project?

I created Afro-Man back in high school. I started with T-shirts, hats, and water bottles. From there, I started circulating my very first black and white issue (comic book). Since then, we have grown to what you see today.

What were your experiences in the creation of Afro-Man and the Protectors of the Book of Knowledge?

The experience has been great. The children really appreciate a super hero that reflects them. This was a void in my life as well. I grew up with a love of comic books and cartoons but I was left hanging because there were never any characters that look like me. The appreciation of the children is the only thing that keeps me going.

What upcoming film projects or animated series are you planning?

We have the 3rd episode coming in the fall, plus we are now looking for child-friendly content to broadcast on our website: www.afromankidsspace.com .

What advice can you give to someone who also wants to make an independent film or animated series?

My advice is to never give up; be receptive to advice, but at the end of the day, rely on your own opinion; not all advice is good advice. Also stay true to your brand; don’t be swayed from who you are.

 

MILTON DAVIS

Milton Davis is a chemist by day and a writer/publisher by night and on the weekends. He writes and publishes uplifting science fiction and fantasy stories from an African-American perspective because he feels that there is a lack of positive black characters in the speculative fiction market.

Milton is the author of five novels:Meji Book One, Meji Book Two,Changa’s Safari Vol. 1, Changa’s Safari Vol. 2 and Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology, for which he is a contributing editor, along with sword and sorcery living legend – and founder of the fantasy subgenre, Sword and Soul – Charles R. Saunders.

All of Milton’s works are self-published through his company, MVmedia, LLC: http://www.mvmediaatl.com/.

What is Rite of Passage: Initiation about?

Rite of Passage: Initiation is an excerpt from a larger project, Rite of Passage.

What is your role in the making of the film and how did you become a part of this project?

I wrote the original story on which Rite of Passage is based. Balogun Ojetade read the story and loved it, so he decided to take it on as a movie project. He adapted the storyline to his love of Harriet Tubman and changed the lead character from a man to a woman by the name of Dorothy. Balogun and I are working together promoting the project and securing funding for it.

What were your experiences in the creation of Rite of Passage: Initiation?

This was my first time watching a movie being created and it was fascinating to say the least. Everyone was very professional and Balogun was very open and active with the camera people and actors.

What upcoming film projects are you planning?

Right now, Rite of Passage is the only project on my horizon. I hope to be involved with many more in the future, at least from a storyline standpoint.

What advice can you give to someone who also wants to make an independent film?

I can’t give much advice since I don’t have a lot of experience. The best advice I can give is to have fun. In the end that’s what it’s all about.

 

IYALOGUN-OSUN OJETADE

Iyalogun-Osun Ojetade is a photographer by profession and works part-time as an actress and stunt-person in action and martial arts films. She has had supporting roles in the independent films Black Panther: Blood Ties and Reynolds’ War; and has lead roles in the films Rite of Passage: Initiation and A Single Link, which she also co-produced.

Iyalogun-Osun is a martial arts expert, an initiated traditional African priest and a Doula, who assists mid-wives and mothers through the birthing process and post-natal care.

Iyalogun-Osun can be reached at https://www.facebook.com/iyalogun.osun.

You are the star in two of the films screening at the State of Black Science Fiction Film Festival – Rite of Passage: Initiation and A Single Link. What are these films about?

Rite of Passage: Initiation is about Harriet Tubman and her student, Dorothy, who one day will become the recipient of incredible power. Rite of Passage: Initiation is an introduction to Rite of Passage, a film that we intend to be the pilot for an ongoing television series. It will be the first Steamfunk series on television and Rite of Passage: Initiation will be the first Steamfunk film ever made.

A Single Link is a martial arts drama about a woman who is raped by a man who becomes lightweight champion of the world in mixed martial arts fighting. For closure and empowerment, Remi wants to fight him. She strives to become the first woman to fight a man professionally while keeping her family together through trying times. Remi becomes a symbol for the downtrodden and the oppressed as her fight becomes public.

What is your role in the making of these films and how did you become a part of these projects?

I play Harriet Tubman in Rite of Passage: Initiation. When I heard that my husband, Balogun Ojetade – the writer and director of the film – was casting, I told him that I wanted the role. Knowing that I could pull it off after proving myself during the shooting of A Single Link, he gave me the role.

With A Single Link, I was already one of the producers of the film. After reading the script, I decided that I wanted to play the lead role of Remi Fasina. Knowing that the role would require shooting hours of grueling fight scene footage, my husband – the writer and director – promised he would give me the role if I worked out every day for twelve weeks. If I missed a day, he would cast someone else. I agreed to his terms and won the role. There was obviously a method to his madness because one day, I had to shoot five fight scenes back-to-back in one-hundred degree temperature in a sweaty, musty boxing gym. Had I not been training, I probably would have passed out or suffered a heat-stroke.

What were your experiences in the creation of Rite of Passage: Initiation and A Single Link?

My experiences on both films were great. The cast and crew on both films were professional, motivated, dedicated to the project and highly creative. The crew has been working together for quite some time, which makes the shoots run smoothly and everyone – with the exception of Associate Producer and Assistant to the Director, Danny “Akin” Donaldson, who keeps us on schedule – is a comedian, so we laugh a lot during breaks and when someone flubs a line. A relaxed set gets better results.

What upcoming film projects are you planning?

I am always seeking to audition for roles that show women of African-descent in a positive light. As I stated earlier, we also plan to shoot a pilot and several episodes of Rite of Passage. Finally, I am trying to convince my husband to make a Nollywood film. I believe we can raise the standard of films coming out of Africa and I have many contacts there that can help facilitate this process.

What advice can you give to someone who also wants to act in, or produce, an independent film?

Do it! Don’t be a dreamer, be a visionary. Dreamers are asleep; visionaries are awake. Focus on your vision and then bring that vision into fruition through hard work, patience and a never give up attitude.

 

Another highlight of the State of Black Science Fiction Film Festival is the Art at War: Countering Negative Images of Blacks in the Media panel. Moderated by internationally renowned activist and artist, Kalonji Jama Changa and featuring a panel of powerhouses in film, radio, television and fashion, this panel promises to be an unforgettable experience for all!

Be sure to join us August 4th at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture for this unique, exciting and inspiring film festival wherein the state of Black speculative fiction and Black independent film will be forever elevated beyond your wildest imagination!

Kickass Warrior Women? African Superheroes? A mysterious magic box washed ashore by Hurricane Katrina? The state of Black speculative fiction and Black independent film is about to be forever elevated beyond our wildest imaginations. Atlanta will never be the same!


McDojos: Over 40 Million Served!

McDojos:  Over 40 Million Served

Greetings, all!

On occasion, I like to deviate from my regular posts on Steampunk, Steamfunk and / or the craft of writing and talk about some aspect of the martial arts.

I am honored to have the opportunity to share with you what little knowledge I have acquired in my forty years of training in – and twenty-five years of teaching – traditional African martial arts and I welcome your questions and comments.

A martial artist, like any other artist, has the responsibility to render the truth as they see it, so I will do just that.  If this blog wounds anyone, so be it.  Band-Aids only cost $2.99 a box.  Now, here goes:

In this blog, we will discuss the bane and shame of the martial arts world:  The “McDojo”.

McDojos are martial arts schools that – like the restaurant chain with a similar name – fill their patrons with garbage disguised as something good and, in the end, help to create soft, martial arts pooh-bears, or overly aggressive brutes.

The McDojo’s motive is profit.

McDojos teach impractical, ineffective martial arts and send unprepared, over confident students from the pristine, safe and controlled environment of the McDojo into the real world, armed with the false belief that they can defend themselves and teach others to do the same.

In actuality, these bamboozled students have no real combat or self-defense skills.  They have wasted valuable time and money and are the victims of fraud and deception.

McDojos crank out thousands of “Black Belts” each year, who open schools after one or two years of training.  Over half of these “Instructors” are twelve (12) years old and younger.

We have people who have never been hit, or who have never actually hit anyone, teaching self-defense to ourselves and our children.  I have even been told of McDojos that convince unwitting students that they can learn to fight through the practice of dance steps.  These instructors are basically ballet – or belly – dancers in a “karate suit”.
Learning to dance prepares the nervous system, mind and muscles for dancing, not combat.  Next time you see someone disarm a knife wielding attacker with the “Stanky-Leg”, let me know.

With McDojos now outnumbering credible martial arts schools, it is essential that you learn to distinguish between the two, if you are serious about defending yourself and your loved ones

While visiting a martial arts school, listen for these McDojo warning signs:

  1. “You don’t have to experience pain in order to learn to fight effectively.”
  2. “We have techniques that can stop any grappler from taking us to the ground.”
  3. “If you have enough control to punch or kick inches from someone’s face without actually hitting them, you can easily hit them on the street.”
  4. “If you can break a board, you can break a bone.”
  5. “We train slowly and softly in class, but on the street, when adrenaline’s pumping, we hit hard and fast.”
  6. “We can make you a Black Belt (or Red Sash, or Instructor, etc.) in one to two years.”
  7. “If a child can perform the same techniques as an adult, then they are capable of teaching as an adult.”
  8. “I am Grandmaster of this style and the only person alive qualified to teach it.”
  9. “I teach Kemetic Kung Fu.” (Since when is anything Chinese “Kemetic”?)

The Making of a Mythster

Another sure way to tell if you are in a McDojo is if the instruction is rooted in myth.

We really do not realize how influenced by martial arts movies we really are.

We believe in – and actively seek out – Mr. Miyagi (or Mr. Han, in the remake), from The Karate Kid; Stick, from Marvel Comics’ Daredevil and Elektra books; or Pai Mei, from Kill Bill, Vol. 2.

The more mystical and mysterious the better. Damn practical self-defense technique when you can just snatch out your opponent’s entire ribcage and show it to him before he hits the ground.

While teaching my students in the park a couple of years ago, an onlooker, who claimed to be a lifelong student of the martial arts, observed me “take a student’s strength” and then “give it back to him” and then watched as the entire class tried – futilely – to push me backward, even while I was standing on one leg.

I explained to the students that this had nothing to do with magic, but had everything to do with my knowledge of physics and biomechanics – something that is extensively studied in indigenous African martial arts.

The onlooker approached us and exclaimed “You’re foolin’ ‘em! You’re foolin’ ‘em!”

“Fooling them?” I inquired. “How so?”

“You’re a chi master, pretending that your power is just physics and biology and whatnot,” he replied.

That poor man would rather believe I was a sorcerer than a scientist. Sad, but the truth is: most people are just like him.

This is why so many myths abound in the martial arts and why McDojos around the world are raking in big bucks…from you.

Let’s kill a few myths right now:

Registered Hands

This is one of the oldest American martial arts legends, and has absolutely no basis in truth.

First, the U.S. government doesn’t regulate the martial arts, which means there is no process to identify people practicing the fighting arts and there is no governmental method by which practitioners can be evaluated…at least no process of identification they have revealed to the public.

Actually, there is not a country on earth in which martial artists are required to register themselves as weapons, deadly or otherwise.

This myth has its roots in three different events that occurred within the mid-20th Century:

In post-World War II Japan, the traditional martial arts were banned and records were kept of experienced practitioners.  The ban and keeping of records only lasted a few years and never spread beyond the borders of Japan.

Another event is the regulation of the activities of U.S. servicemen overseas.

Following World War II and even into the 1960s, military personnel who enrolled in martial arts programs were asked to register their participation, though not themselves.

When a person joins the military, he’s essentially the property of the U.S. government and engaging in activities that needlessly result in injury is like damaging military equipment. If a school was causing a lot of injuries, the military wanted to know about it.  They would forbid military personnel from training at such schools and in some cases, the U.S. government would shut a school down.

The third event is rooted in the soil of the rich and often outrageous history of professional pugilism. In the era of boxer Joe Louis, it was common to have police on hand during a press conference to “register” the boxer as a deadly weapon.

This was merely a publicity stunt and carried no legal weight.

In court cases involving violent confrontations, lawyers and judges may advise the jury to bear in mind a person’s martial arts, boxing or military training when evaluating the facts of the case, as in the Matter of the Welfare of DSF, 416 N.W.2d 772 (Minn. App. 1988), where the Minnesota Court of Appeals concluded that the defendant, who had “substantial experience in karate,” was aware enough of the potential of his blows to deliberately break the plaintiff’s jaw.

That is a lot different, however, from legally stating that the person in question is a registered and/or licensed deadly weapon.

What is disturbing, however, is that some martial artists carry “registration cards” which they have received from their McDojo, who charged them a hefty fee to be registered. These unwitting students believed that they were registered as deadly weapons.  Sad.

Nose in Brain

Inevitably, at every workshop I teach, I am asked to demonstrate a quick “death move” that anyone can do to take out any opponent.  Someone will invariably shout: “Push his nose into his brain!”

Now, tell me: Can a person really strike someone in a way that will drive the nose bone into the brain?  The answer is an emphatic “No!”   I repeat:  No!  You cannot drive any part of the nose into the brain!

This cannot be done and never has been. Anyone who argues to the contrary is misinformed or outright lying and stands in opposition to overwhelming medical and anatomical fact.

Firstly, the nose is primarily composed of malleable cartilage which does not possess the tensile strength necessary to penetrate the thick bone of which the skull is composed. Secondly, even if the nose was entirely made of bone  - and it is NOT – it would not be long enough to reach the brain.

This is one of the most popular myths in American culture and has grown to urban legend status from its appearances in books and movies.

In Stephen King’s novel Firestarter the assassin John Rainbird contemplates killing someone in this fashion and in the movie, he actually does it; the author Shirley Conran used the nose-in-brain technique as a plot device in her novel Savages. For the use of this mighty mythological technique, you can also see the Bruce Willis action flick, The Last Boy Scout, the Nicholas Cage film, Con Air and A History of Violence, starring Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris.

The structure of the nose makes the nose-in-brain death-blow impossible. The nose bone, or crista galli, is a thick, smooth, triangular piece of bone that projects from the bone that forms the roof of the nasal cavity (cribriform plate).

Though there are small openings in the cribriform plate, which allow nerves to pass through it, these openings are not large enough to allow a piece of splintered crista galli to enter the brain case, nor are these openings direct conduits to the brain.

So the nose-in-brain death-blow, as dynamic and spectacular as it is in fiction, is just that…fiction.

A Black Belt Is a Master

Nope. Not even close.

First of all, most martial arts do not even use belts (or sashes, for those that wanna be cute).

For those that do, a first-degree black belt is merely an advanced beginner. The belt signifies his or her passage from the ranks of those who are still learning to the ranks of those who’ve learned how to learn.

The transition from white belt to black belt has less to do with techniques than with learning the methodologies necessary to think like a martial artist.

A black belt should be able to grasp the principles upon which the arts are based, which is far more important than his ability to perform any technique. The black belt has learned how to learn and therefore becomes more proactive in his own education.

Most of my colleagues in the traditional Asian martial arts maintain that a person becomes a true expert by the time he reaches fourth degree, which is, for many arts, the point at which a person can begin teaching.

These days, first- and second-degree black belts are often assigned to teach, and many are even called sensei. This is a marketing tactic; one that, in fact, confuses people, especially when we learn to equate anyone with a black belt with instructor-level expertise.

Breaking Away

If you’re already enrolled in a McDojo, I suggest you break that lengthy and expensive contract you signed, on the grounds that you were defrauded, throw that belly-dancing six-year old master instructor over your knee and whoop his little ass.

Nah, just sue that McDojo for every dime you ever paid them, plus pain and suffering, then e-mail me and I’ll direct you to a reputable school in your area.

Until next time:  Stay strong and keep it (Steam)funky!


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