By all accounts, 2013 has been a striking year for black film directors. But is the real story about black directors working in television?
August, 2012, marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of "The Larry Sanders Show," episodes of which are available on Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, and DVD. This is the third and final part of Edward Copeland's extensive tribute to the show, including interviews with many of those involved in creating one of the best-loved comedies in television history. Part 1 (Ten Best Episodes) is here and Part 2 (The show behind the show) is here.
A related article about Bob Odenkirk and his characters, Stevie Grant and Saul Goodman (on "Breaking Bad"), is here.
by Edward Copeland
"It was an amazing experience," said Jeffrey Tambor. "I come from the theater and it was very, very much approached like theater. It was rehearsed and Garry took a long, long time in casting and putting that particular unit together." In a phone interview, Tambor talked about how Garry Shandling and his behind-the-scenes team selected the performers to play the characters, regulars and guest stars, on "The Larry Sanders Show" when it debuted 20 years ago. Shandling chose well throughout the series' run and -- from the veteran to the novice, the theater-trained acting teacher and character actor to the comedy troupe star in his most subtle role -- they all tend to feel the way Tambor does: "It changed my career. It changed my life."
Why not fold documentaries into my list of the "Best Films of 2011?" After all, a movie is a movie, right? Yes, and some years I've thrown them all into the same mixture. But all of these year-end Best lists serve one useful purpose: They tell you about good movies you may not have seen or heard about. The more films on my list that aren't on yours, the better job I've done.
That's particularly true were you to depend on the "short list" released by the Academy's Documentary Branch of 15 films they deem eligible for nomination. The branch has been through turmoil in the past and its procedures were "reformed" at one point. But this year it has made a particularly scandalous sin of
"The truth is, Black History Month was started by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a Black historian fed up with the lack of historical representation of people of color. In 1926, he pioneered Negro History Week, putting it on the same week as Lincoln and Frederick Douglass' birthdays. That's how February became associated with Black History Month, not some attempt to play us cheap. So, my apologies to Dr. Woodson. Mea culpa to the Man as well, though as my Mom used to tell me after erroneously beating my ass for something I didn't do, "you probably deserved this for something I didn't catch.' "
Odienator is back, and he's beautiful! The self-described "bald, Black, half-blind kid" has returned to Big Media Vandalism for his second annual "It's Black History Mumf, Odienator" Film Festival, aka "Odie 2: Electric Boogaloo." (And he's filing some of it from a business trip to Dublin, Internet willing!)
"Since Obama has made Black History every month until at least January 2013," he writes, "I am now claiming February as my own." Yes he does. So far you'll find inimitably Odienesque personal essays on "Devil In a Blue Dress," "Beat Street, "Baadasssss!," "Eve's Bayou," "Cotton Comes to Harlem,"Something the Lord Made," "Lady Sings the Blues," "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka," Scary Black Movies (including "Blacula," "Abby" and "Candyman") -- and appreciations of "Sanford and Son," actor Roscoe Lee Browne, and the late Bernie Mac, Isaac Hayes and Rudy Ray Moore, aka Dolemite. (Odiebama also makes a couple guest appearances.)
"Pride": Black Philadelphians can so swim.
Take this -- Rush Limbaugh, Snoop "I Can't Swim" Dogg,Tramm Hudson, Al Campanis and others who have reinforced the stereotype that African-Americans cannot swim well because they lack buoyancy. (I bet Martin Lawrence's Big Momma could float with hardly any effort at all, though maybe that's mostly because so much of her body mass is foam-rubber.)
Check out this coming release (March 23, 2007) called, simply, "Pride" (formerly "PDR" for Philadelphia Department of Recreation) -- in the tradition of against-the-odds rag-tag underdog movies like "Lean on Me," "Cool Runnings," "The Bad News Bears," "Dangerous Minds," "The Mighty Ducks," "Invincible" and, I don't know, maybe "White Men Can't Jump"? It stars Terrence Howard ("Hustle and Flow," "Crash"), Bernie Mac ("Mr. 3000") and Tom Arnold ("Happy Endings") in what Lionsgate describes as a "life-affirming drama": Based on true events, Lionsgate's "Pride" tells the inspiring story of Jim Ellis, a charismatic schoolteacher in the 1970s who changed lives forever when he founded an African-American swim team in one of Philadelphia's roughest neighborhoods. [...]
Recruiting troubled teens from the streets, Jim struggles to transform a motley team of novices into capable swimmers – all in time for the upcoming state championships.…
By turns comic, rousing and poignant, "Pride" is a triumphant story about team spirit and courage in the face of overwhelming odds.
Big Momma, beached.
The real-life Ellis says it's not so much that African-Americans can't swim [right -- like people with Caribbean backgrounds have to avoid the water?], but that, in America, they don't bother to learn how: It was my contribution to the black consciousness movement," Ellis says. "It was doing something they said we couldn’t do. It was a way of getting kids out of the neighborhood, exposing them to other things and greater possibilities." [...]
In 1987 former Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis, explaining on ABC’s "Nightline" why blacks could never become baseball field managers or team executives, argued that swimming proved that blacks didn’t have what it takes to reach the top.
"The just don’t have the buoyancy," Campanis told an astonished Ted Koppel.
"I put that one on my bulletin board," Ellis recalls. "For motivation."
But Ellis believes white racist attitudes aren’t solely to blame. He says many blacks are equally guilty for buying into the stereotype, dismissing swimming as a white country club activity or avoiding the water because it’s better to look good than to swim well.
"You still hear people talking about swimming, black females talking about not wanting to get their hair wet, or folks talking about not wanting to catch colds," Ellis says with a sigh. The reluctance from within the black community and resistance among some whites within organized swimming to embrace a black swim team didn’t deter Ellis from building his program. Ellis cites statistics that black kids between ages 5 and 19 are more than twice as likely as white kids to die from drowning. He hopes the movie will encourage more blacks to learn how to swim.
Even Snoop Doggy Dogg-Paddle performed at a pool party in "Old School."
Was Spike Lee's "The Original Kings of Comedy" red-lined? Lee doesn't think so. His concert film starring four black comedians opened last Aug. 18 to astonishingly good business, and some believed it was prevented from winning the number one spot at the nation's box office because it was released on only 847 screens, grossing $11 million. The weekend's winner, "The Cell," was on 2,411 screens, grossing $17.5 million.