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Wanda’s Picks: Interview with Nick Cannon, Star of Spike Lee’s New Film Chi-Raq

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By Wanda Sabir

 

Power couple, Demetrius “Chi-Raq” Dupree (Nick Cannon) and Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) have all any young couple could want, fame and power, the kind of power won, maybe even earned through fear.

With money, fame and notoriety, which come from Chi-Raq’s prowess on the bandstand and battlefield, the couple strides fearlessly on Chi-town streets. Spartan nor rival gangsters, Trojans, headed by the one eyed Cyclops (Wesley Snipes), know what defeat looks like until a girl-child is killed.

 

This senseless death shakes Lysistrata from her perch, her flight setting in motion a series of events Greek playwright Aristophanes couldn’t have imagined nor her lover and other misguided Black men, all infected with a disease which promotes self-destruction and annihilation, rather than self-determination and progress.

 

Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq,” with co-writer, Kevin Willmott, rated R, is a discussion those who care about Black lives need to address. Teyonah Parris as Lysistrata and Nick Cannon as Chi-Raq hold the space, an urgent and necessary space for this kind of dialogue. No one is born a killer, killers are man-made. The film opens in Bay Area Theatres, Dec. 4.

wanda sabir photo for Oakland Post
In a recent interview in San Francisco with Nick Cannon, he told me he went to a funeral a week earlier for a child killed in the same neighborhood where the film was shot. He talks about such unnecessary violence as misguided manhood rites, rites of passage emptied of crucial and necessary values which come from knowing one’s history.

NC: Tyson Lee was executed. Intentionally shot 7 times. A 9 year old. It was hard to look at the [child] in the casket. This is where we’re at. This is where we’ve come as a people? This is a heinous act.

 

Demonic. There is no reason that this should ever occur. I understand, we have lost the code. I understand being a warrior, being a soldier, wanting to be that as a man, [but] when you take the code out of that, take the true principles of protection out of that—then what are you?

 

I hear the young brothers and their music, being killers and savages, beasts. We’re not that. We’re kings and queens, not savages. Our ancestors did way too much for us [come to this].

WS: How does Chi-Raq wrap his mind around ending a war, putting down the gun, and having a conversation with Cyclops, the fierce Trojan leader portrayed by Wesley Snipes?

Nick says, “Wesley is a caricature. I think he purposely did that. He didn’t want to glorify the negativity – what a gang leader could be. He plays him in a comedic way. I actually had to come from the opposite end of the spectrum and stay true to foundation and the dark side of what this life actually can bring and the journey my character Chi-Raq [takes].

“[Chi-Raq] is stubborn, bull headed, egotistical. [He] has this idea of what [he] thinks manhood is, because [he] didn’t have a man in [his] life to show [him] the proper way to be a man. Ultimately, [Chi-Raq] gets to stand up and be held accountable for what [he] character puts himself through, put others through.”

WS: The violence was not something we did to each other, it was something we experienced as a people. We held onto our values as human beings. Dr. Wade Nobles speaks of African personhood often, and notes that when we kill someone that looks like us, it is suicide, because we are killing ourselves.

NC: Genocide, that’s what it is. Violence begets violence. Hurt people hurt people.

WS: Right right, so the healing needs to happen.

 

NC: Yeah. It is a cry from pain, that’s why we need to recondition our minds. We have to recondition our souls. It only takes one person. That’s the beauty of this film.

 

It was one sister who stood up and started a movement. When you look at the poster, you say, that’s a strong black woman that represents a tale that is over 2000 years. For my daughter to see that poster and say, that’s Lysistrata.

 

It’s a beautiful thing. It’s how we begin to recondition our minds. It is going to take time but we all want it, we all yearn for it. We want people to focus in on it to demand respect for life.

With long time musical collaborator, Terrence Blanchard, at the helm, here, who knows? There might be a few lessons we can hum on our way from the theater.

 

For more by Wanda Sabir, go to wandaspicks.com

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Bay Area

Oakland Planning Commission Approves A’s Stadium Project Environmental Study

Of the 53 public speakers at the meeting, 32 opposed approving the EIR, raising significant concerns about the impact of the project. Speakers included representatives of community organizations, spokespeople for major Port of Oakland businesses and the ILWU, the union representing Port longshore workers.

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Melody Davis speaks at a demonstration before the Planning Commission meeting at Oakland City Hall on Jan. 19, 2022, at a rally opposing Oakland A’s owner John Fisher’s real estate and stadium development of Howard Terminal. Photo courtesy of Gene Hazzard.
Melody Davis speaks at a demonstration before the Planning Commission meeting at Oakland City Hall on Jan. 19, 2022, at a rally opposing Oakland A’s owner John Fisher’s real estate and stadium development of Howard Terminal. Photo courtesy of Gene Hazzard.

By Ken Epstein

Billionaire developer John Fisher’s goal of building a $1 billion baseball stadium as part of a $12 billion real estate project on public land at the Port of Oakland took a significant step forward this week as the Oakland Planning Commission unanimously approved city staff’s final Environmental Impact Report, despite widespread community concerns.

While a victory for Fisher and Mayor Libby Schaaf, who is an outspoken proponent of the development, the Planning Commission vote on Wednesday is only a recommendation. The report will now go to the City Council, with a review expected to begin in February before a vote on approval.

City staff are still in the process of negotiating with the A’s corporation over the financial impacts and other issues that are part of a Development Agreement which ultimately must go to the City Council for approval.

While there were 227 attendees at the Zoom commission meeting, city staff had posted the wrong link to the meeting on the city’s Planning Commission webpage making it likely that many people were unable to watch or participate in the meeting.

Of the 53 public speakers at the meeting, 32 opposed approving the EIR, raising significant concerns about the impact of the project. Speakers included representatives of community organizations, spokespeople for major Port of Oakland businesses and the ILWU, the union representing Port longshore workers.

In their unanimous vote in favor of the 3,500-page document, commissioners brushed aside residents’ concerns about the flaws and omissions in the report, as did Schaaf, who seemed exuberant in a press statement announcing the commission’s decision.

“Tonight’s Planning Commission recommendation to send the final Environmental Impact Report on to the City Council for certification is a huge win for our entire region and puts Oakland one step closer to building a landmark waterfront ballpark district with the highest environmental standards,” Schaff said.

One speaker who raised concerns was Nathan Landau, transportation planner for AC Transit.

“Unfortunately, there are still some very serious unanswered questions on how this (project) will affect the AC Transit system,” he said. “We don’t see a document that addresses these things. (The
City) needs to dig deeper and develop an adequate transportation system” to support the proposed stadium.

Another speaker was Susan Ransom of SSA International, which handles 65% of the goods that go through the Port. She said the final EIR report was “speculative” presenting a “misrepresentation of the facts about water safety and maritime impacts,” which city staff has failed to discuss with the Coast Guard.

Before the project is finally approved, the Council must consider the General Plan Amendment, Rezoning, the Development Agreement and the preliminary development plan.

Approvals are also necessary from the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) and the State Lands Commission.

Gregory Hodge, candidate for Oakland mayor said, “Oakland’s physical and social infrastructure has deteriorated to the point of crisis. While we love our teams, we love our neighbors more. Paying their fair share is a tangible way for team owners to show that they love Oakland’s people more than making a profit.”

“What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander, the wise elders used to say. Let’s expedite an authentic community-driven process to bring fresh development ideas to the Coliseum neighborhood as we have seen in the latest round of supporting the A’s in their Howard Terminal effort. Our City’s administration owes that same level of expedience, efficiency and respect to AASEG (African American Sports and Entertainment Group).”

Loren Taylor, Oakland city councilman and candidate for mayor said, “Looking forward to having answers to questions addressed and answered before coming to council for a vote”

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Art

Terrance Kelly, Brother Ben Lead Creative Arts Classes for Elders at West Oakland Senior Center

The Emmy Award-winning conductor and choir director Terrance Kelly leads a special choir class focused on gospel, jazz, blues and world music alongside Paul Daniels of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir and the St. Columba Church.

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Ben Tucker, a.k.a. Brother Ben, leads “Straight Outta Oakland,” one of the new classes offered by Stagebridge and held at the West Oakland Senior Center. Photo courtesy of Stagebridge
Ben Tucker, a.k.a. Brother Ben, leads “Straight Outta Oakland,” one of the new classes offered by Stagebridge and held at the West Oakland Senior Center. Photo courtesy of Stagebridge

By Julius Rea

Stagebridge and the West Oakland Senior Center have partnered to offer two incredible classes to be held at the West Oakland Senior Center (WOSC), starting this month. Created for elders, these opportunities will bring out the joy in celebrating Black culture and Oakland history.

The Emmy Award-winning conductor and choir director Terrance Kelly leads a special choir class focused on gospel, jazz, blues and world music alongside Paul Daniels of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir and the St. Columba Church.

Inviting both introductory singers and experienced vocalists, “The Community’s Choir” offers a special chance to work with these two Oakland-based musical voices. Also, students are not required to learn to read sheet music. This class will be held Fridays, 1 – 2 p.m. at WOSC.

In 2005, Kelly received the Local Heroes Award from KQED Television for his directorship of the Oakland Interfaith Youth Choir and was also honored at the Gospel Music Awards. In 2013, he was awarded the Dr. Edwin Hawkins Excellence Award. He currently serves as Minister of Magnification at Oakland’s Imani Community Church.

Ben Tucker, a.k.a. Brother Ben, will teach “Straight Outta Oakland,” a class inspired by the history and culture of West Oakland. He will lead students in developing a showcase of five-minute stories. Focused on telling personal narratives in a clear, concise manner, this class will be a bridge to mapping and crafting one-of-a-kind journeys. The class will be held Tuesdays, 1 – 2 p.m. at WOSC at 1724 Adeline St., Oakland, CA 94607.

A retired University of California administrator, Tucker has been a community-focused storyteller for several years while taking classes at Stagebridge. He has performed at the San Francisco and Berkeley Marsh Theaters, Oakland Main and San Francisco Bayview libraries, and many senior centers and schools. Brother Ben is also a singer and author.

Students who are registered members of the West Oakland Senior Center will be offered the classes for free. Those who are not members can register today at www.stagebridge.org. For more information on these classes, call the West Oakland Senior Center directly at (510) 238-7016.

Julius Rea is the director of marketing and communications for Stagebridge.

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Art

REVIEW: Ishmael Reed’s Play “The Slave Who Loved Caviar,” Comments on Black Artists and White Sponsors

[Haitian-Puerto Rican American artist, Jean-Michel] Basquiat rose to fame in the neo-expressionist art movement in the 1980s and [Andy] Warhol, one of his mentors, had gained renown for Pop Art and drug use in the 1960s. They died within a year of each other, Warhol at age 59 in 1987 and Basquiat died of an overdose at age 27 in 1988.

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Detective Mary van Helsing (Roz Fox), left, rescues Jennifer Blue (Kenya Wilson), one of the victims in the continuing exploitation of Blackness. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.
Detective Mary van Helsing (Roz Fox), left, rescues Jennifer Blue (Kenya Wilson), one of the victims in the continuing exploitation of Blackness. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

By Wanda Sabir

Ishmael Reed’s current play, directed by Carla Blank, “The Slave Who Loved Caviar,” at Theater for the New City until January 9, explores Black culture and white exploitation in the relationship between the Haitian-Puerto Rican American artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol.

Basquiat rose to fame in the neo-expressionist art movement in the 1980s and Warhol, one of his mentors, had gained renown for Pop Art and drug use in the 1960s. They died within a year of each other, Warhol at age 59 in 1987 and Basquiat died of an overdose at age 27 in 1988.

There are so many analogous parallels, both fictional or mythic and actual that it is amazing that the play only has one intermission.

In his play, Reed postulates that the older, white artist presented himself as a benevolent father figure. While under the influence of drugs, a willing Basquiat allows Warhol to install him in a basement where Basquiat churns out art like an assembly worker.

Reed’s premise here is that Warhol had gotten away with a crime.

The cold case is reopened by two forensic scientists, Grace and Raksha, (Monisha Shiva and understudy Kenya Wilson) who want to bring the perpetrators to justice. As the contemporary team investigates, time shifts back and forth as what happened to Basquiat had perpetuated with other captives.

Slave owners used cocaine — which Basquiat used excessively — to increase productivity among the captives, Reed says. Just as slavery was once legal, the Warhol machine also had legal protection, money and power.

Reed’s writing is crisp and sharp as are the actors who deliver and deliver and deliver some more. Carla Blank’s direction is also on point as the diction and storylines unfold clearly in nuanced layers.

I love the scene in Act 2 where the ghost of Richard Pryor — appearing as a shadow puppet danced by actor, Kenya Wilson — tries to prevent Basquiat from going up in chemical flames like the late comedian had.

Pryor’s ghost speaks to the art of selling out to Hollywood, another type of killing field for Black art and artists. We sense Pryor’s regret that he didn’t stay with people who loved him. It’s hard to tell friend from foe when engulfed in f(l)ame(s).

Reed’s characters also convey the prevailing attitudes by police that allow the wealthy and famous to get away with everything from theft to murder, a very real problem on and off the page.

Roz Fox’s Detective Mary van Helsing is a cool sleuth who goes looking for the missing appetizer, “Jennifer Blue” (actor Kenya Wilson) despite legal disinterest. She is our hero. Don’t worry, this is a spoiler, but there is so much going on here, you will probably forget I told you.

In “Slave” we see too often how historians are propagandists who lie to keep the empire solvent.

Remember Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in “1984”? I am reminded also of Jimi Hendrix (1970) and his demise—yes to a drug overdose. . . Fuquan Johnson (2021), Shock G (2021), Juice WRLD (2020), Billie Holiday (1959), Whitney Houston (2012), The Artist Formerly Known as Prince (2006), Michael Jackson (2009).

Since it is Ishmael Reed, we can actually have a happy ending.

The late bell hooks wrote in “Outlaw Culture: ‘Altars of Sacrifice: “Re-membering Basquiat’,” that the young, yet masterful artist “journeyed into the heart of whiteness.

White territory he named as a savage and brutal place. The journey is embarked upon with no certainty of return. Nor is there any way to know what you will find or who you will be at journey’s end. . . . Basquiat understood that he was risking his life—that this journey was all about sacrifice [. . .]” (36). this and his refusal to allow the dominant culture to tell our story, the 99%, the percentage who matter.

How difficult it must have been for the artist to have his say as he dangled from a purveyor’s noose. Herein lies Black genius. Herein lies the tragedy. Ishmael Reed’s ability to cultivate success for the past 60 or so years stems from his artistic eReed’s research is impeccable—I lose track of some of the names, like the artist who boycotts with other Black artists a museum that sets out to exploit them.

Reed is certainly prescient as is the Theater for The New City’s Artistic Director Crystal Field. As confederate monuments are toppled throughout the nation and reparations are a very real possibility, “The Slave Who Loved Caviar” certainly sets a precedent. “Slave” is a challenge and a wakeup call to those who have not been paying attention to the right thing. “Slave” says, change the channel. What did the Last Poets say about the Revolution?

The play is streaming through Jan. 9, 2022, at Theater for the New City. Streaming tickets are just $10+ small fee. For in person ($15.00) and virtual tickets visit https://ci.ovationtix.com/35441/production/1091241

You can learn more about Reed on my radio or podcast interview here.

We had a conversation with many members of the cast January 5, 2022 on Wanda’s Picks Radio Show podcast. Tune in (subscribe): http://tobtr.com/12046944

 

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