Archive for October, 2011


October 31, 2011


Vixen Chat: Gabourey Sidibe Talks “Tower Heist,” Laughs At First Film Role
Posted by Niki McGloster on Oct 28, 2011


Gabourey Sidibe is back and packing a hilarious punch alongside Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller and Casey Affleck in Tower Heist. Since first being introduced through her Grammy-nominated lead role in Precious, the actress has apparently been rubbing elbows with the right people. Landing in the Brett Ratner-produced film, Gabby gets to show another side of her acting skill set. Surprising? Not at all. VV caught up with her following the film’s screening (go see it!) and the über confident actress dished on working with Eddie Murphy and being able to do the best thing as a person–laugh at yourself -Niki McGloster

This is your second feature film. Tell me how it was working with this all-star cast.
It certainly was intimidating. I have this weird knack for working with people that I idolize and people who are huge, industry giants, so it’s a blessing but incredibly scary. It’s strange to kind of fathom that I belong in this film with these people so it was really scary jumping in.

Were you nervous meeting anyone in particular? You had a few scenes with Eddie Murphy and how that was?
That was probably the scariest part for me. I remember for weeks in advance I was kind of fretting to all of my friends about these scenes I have to flirt with Eddie, and what he it would be like. I was genuinely worried about it; I was worried about fitting in because I think I’m really funny by myself in my bedroom. [Laughs] I make myself laugh all the time, but am I really funny standing next to Eddie Murphy?

How do you feel about people seeing this funny side of you on screen?
I guess it’s a little bit of a 180 from Precious, but I laugh every time I see Precious. Inappropriately, in fact.

That movie is hella funny. If you didn’t laugh, I don’t know what movie you were watching. But it was a fun experience I probably laugh because I’m an inappropriate person.
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Vixen Chat: Gabourey Sidibe Talks “Tower Heist,” Laughs At First Film Role
Posted by Niki McGloster on Oct 28, 2011


[Laughs] How did you prepare for the accent in Tower Heist?
My best friend is Jamaican, and we’ve been best friends for 12 years now. Although she was born here in America, her parents were both born in Jamaica and my dad was born in Senegal, Africa. We’ve been making fun of each others’ heritage for the entire friendship. She’ll make an African accent, and I’ll try a Jamaican accent. It’s really a huge part of our friendship. To do it on screen was scary because I’ve just been kidding. I would ask her different pointers and different phrases to say, and she would make sure I said them right. Also, I had a dialect coach. Three, in fact.

Who had you in stitches the most?
Eddie was always really funny, and I think he was funnier because of my perception of him. He’s such a sweet person and really nice, and in between scenes he would sing “Candy Man” by Sammy Davis Jr. in his accent, so it was really funny. It was kind of amazing to see a side of him that’s different than what I thought. It was really nice and endearing to be on set with people that I admire. They didn’t give me any pointers but trusted me with this film that was essentially theirs. They trusted me that I knew what I was doing. My back would be a little bit straighter, and I would stand up a little bit taller because I felt I could march around with them.

That’s really awesome, and it’s exciting that this is your second What’s next? Are there any other projects you’re going to be working?
I’m on a Showtime series called The Big C and it just ended it’s second season run and we also got picked up for a third season, so will be going into production for that in early 2012 which is great and exciting. I’m a huge fan of the show and working on the show so I can’t wait to go back. I also have a few other film projects in line, so it looks like I’ll be working this year. [Laughs]
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October 31, 2011


October 15, 2011

On Fulton Street, contemplating an all-black election.

By Mark Jacobson ⁠ Published Oct 14, 2011 ShareThis

(Photo: Illustration by Martin Ansin)


ike Ali and Frazier, two brothers for the championship of the world.” This was how it would be if, by some crazy chance, Barack Obama and Herman Cain wound up going head-to-head in November 2012, said Tommy Red, who was in the midst of getting his biweekly haircut at Levels Barbershop on Fulton Street in Brooklyn. His comparison was apt, Red insisted, buzz-cutters on the back of his neck. Ali was the artiste, the thinker with the pedigreed jab, “a mystical” individual, almost godlike. Smokin’ Joe, on the other hand, he was Everyman, the down-to-earth “grits and potatoes” grinder who kept on coming.

If Obama were Ali, and Cain took the Frazier role, that’s what it would come down to, said Red, who looked to be in his middle forties and said he was a “barely” employed construction worker. “You want Ali to win, but maybe you got more in common with Frazier.” It was Red’s position that a hypothetical race between Obama and Cain—straight up, with only black people voting, party affiliations excluded—might be “closer than you think.”

Red’s position was rebutted by his fellow patrons. “Herman Cain is nothing but a buffoon and a shill,” said Billy C., a 28-year-old in the middle of receiving treatment for his distressed dreadlocks. Billy had his problems with Obama, whom he wished had a bit more Frazier-like grit in his Harvard Goody Two-Shoes heart and soul. Billy was, after all, like many in the barbershop, and millions across the country, unemployed. He was onboard with the standard hood analysis that the Bushes had picked the country clean and then let the brother take the inevitable fall for it all. Still, you couldn’t totally absolve Obama. To do so would be to make him one more black victim of the white system, a self-defeating characterization at best. Still, Herman Cain? Cain was a leftover from another time, “a damn fool pizza CEO signed up to do whatever people in power say as long as he keeps getting his.”

Many felt Cain was little more than this year’s Jimmy McMillan, the candidate’s endlessly parroted “9-9-9” tax refrain holding no more water than McMillan’s “rent is too damn high” clown act. Cain was one more court jester, the Putney Swope at the table, and he wasn’t even good at it. He kept blowing the timing on the repeating punch line. The dude had allowed himself to be chumped by Michele Bachmann, who somehow came up with the crack about turning the nines upside down so everyone could see the devil in Cain’s details. On Fulton Street, few were willing to entertain the possibility of voting for a guy Bachmann could get over on like that.

It is a well-worn trope in the black community that once you get rich, you’re free to become a Republican. Even Jackie Robinson supported Nelson Rockefeller. But the idea that Herman Cain was supposed to be in the lead for the Republican nomination inspired widespread incredulity because how—just how—could a black man be in the lead for the Republican nomination during tea-party times? With Romney ceiling-glued at roughly 25 percent, Cain’s rise in the polls was in inverse proportion to the decline of Bachmann and Rick Perry. The huddled masses of Confederate-flag-flying Bachmann and Perry voters turning their yearning, hungry eyes to Herman Cain? Oh, yeah, that made a lot of sense.

There were times when to be black in America meant you could never be too paranoid. The fix was in, many people uptown and in Bed-Stuy thought. But which fix? A phone call to the Reverend Al Sharpton turned up the following quote: “You put Cain against Obama, straight up in the black community? Obama’ll win by about 95 to 3, with the rest staying home for rain. Cain’s not even running for the black vote. He came to New York, who did he talk to? Donald Trump! He didn’t go to Harlem, Brooklyn, anywhere black people live. What does that tell you? If Cain reminds any black person of anyone, it isn’t themselves, it is their grandfather, that old southern guy. Things have changed since then, just the Republicans don’t know it.”

Sharpton is in line with people who feel Cain is the GOP’s latest ham-fisted Frankenstein obsession to invent the perfect black Republican. In this scenario, they’d build Cain up, float fake stories about how he’s “in the running” to be Romney’s vice-president, and, when that dries up, use the former Pillsbury exec as what one person called “the No. 1 Negro in charge of Obama-­bashing.” If Cain succeeded in slicing 5 or 10 percent off Obama’s black vote, the operation would be a success.

Fair or not to Cain (who is already complaining that “liberal, leftist folk” in the black community are “racist” in their assumption that minority politicians cannot be conservative), one indisputable fact will remain: It was possible, at least for this fleeting instant in time, to have a halfway serious conversation about two black men running against each other for president. It won’t last, but it’ll be weird while it does.

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October 9, 2011

Loyal black base craves a fighter in the Oval Office

But debate rages: Has Obama done enough to help African-Americans?

By Tim Funk and Celeste Smith,

Posted: Sunday, Oct. 09, 2011

It’s the lunch hour, and President Barack Obama is live, talking jobs, on a big TV screen at No Grease Exclusive Barber Shop in uptown Charlotte.

Along with the NBA labor troubles and the sour economy, the country’s first African-American president is a hot topic in this shop, which cuts the hair of about 400 customers every week.

So Jermaine Johnson, who co-owns No Grease with twin brother Damian, has heard it all in what’s become a raging debate over whether Obama is doing enough to help a hurting African-American community whose enthusiasm and high turnout were crucial to him winning North Carolina and the White House in 2008.

“They talk about the (difficulty) he’s having in passing any new ideas that will help stimulate the economy,” Jermaine Johnson, 38, says of the chatter from his customers. “The word on the street is that the Republicans are turning down anything he puts forth.”

But barber-chair pollster Johnson also is hearing something else: If Obama expects the black community to be there for him in equal numbers in 2012, he needs to become more of a fighter.

“We would like to see a little more bravado from this president – the cowboy going in there to make it happen,” says Johnson, whose shop is a few doors down from Time Warner Cable Arena, where Democrats will nominate Obama for a second term next year.

“He’s been doing what’s expected in politics – crossing lines and trying to get the parties together … But I think he’s over-exhausted it. He’s done it too long. It’s time to stand up for what you believe.”

Apparently, the president has been getting the same advice from political advisers who are concerned about his declining poll numbers, including among his base in the black community. A Washington Post-ABC News Poll last month found that 58 percent of African-Americans had “strongly favorable” views of Obama – down from 83 percent in the spring.

In recent weeks, Obama has been barnstorming the country, promoting his $450 billion American Jobs Act and leading town hall chants for Congress to “pass this bill now.”

He plans to bring his case to North Carolina the week of Oct. 17 as a part of a bus caravan that also will take him to Virginia, another 2012 swing state.

With this new tone, says Urban League of Central Carolinas President Patrick Graham, Obama is going back to his roots: “You’re seeing more of the community organizer.”

U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., a former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, says it’s about time.

“A lot of people have been frustrated that he’s bent over backwards (to work with Republicans),” says Watt, whose district includes much of Charlotte. “Now he’s starting to draw lines and differentiate himself. It’s what people have been looking for.”

‘Our people are hurting’

The president’s new populism comes after weeks of criticism from some high-profile black leaders, who have said that Obama was not addressing the needs of the African-American community, where unemployment is much higher than the national rate.

Among blacks in Charlotte, the jobless rate is more than 19 percent. In August, Charlotte’s overall unemployment rate was 9.8 percent.

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., wondered aloud why a previous Obama bus tour over the summer made stops in the rural Midwest, but not in, say, urban Detroit.

“We’re supportive of the president but we’re getting tired, y’all,” she said at an August jobs fair in Detroit that was sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus. “We want to give the president every opportunity to show what he can do and what he’s prepared to lead on. But our people are hurting.”

PBS and radio talk show host Tavis Smiley and Princeton University professor Cornel West also have taken shots at Obama. In their “Poverty Tour” bus trip in August, they charged that Obama has failed to stand up for the poor. (The show airs on PBS this week.)

Former Charlotte Bobcats owner Bob Johnson last week blasted the president from the other side of the ideological spectrum, saying he should “recalibrate” his targeting of the wealthy in his tax proposals and rhetoric.

“You don’t get people to like you by attacking them or demeaning their success,” said Johnson, one of the country’s wealthier Democrats.

But this heated debate over the first black president’s record and tactics as election year nears also has drawn plenty of Obama backers.

Other prominent radio and TV personalities – including Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey and the Rev. Al Sharpton – have defended Obama and attacked West and Smiley.

The president got an enthusiastic reception at a recent Black Caucus dinner even as he invited members in a fiery speech to stop their complaining and “put on your marching shoes. …We are going to press on.”

And most African-Americans who’ve been heard from – the famous and the rank-and-file – couldn’t disagree more with Johnson’s plea to go easier on the rich and try yet again to compromise with the GOP on Capitol Hill.

Former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt says he would advise the president to stay in the bully pulpit “instead of pulling back and allowing the Congress to make certain decisions and then stepping into the fray. He’s really got to tell the American people what he wants.”

Claude Mayse, 57, a Charlottean who’s unemployed and has been unable to find a sales job, likes the tougher Obama. On everything from the shape of the health reform plan to the size of the economic stimulus package, Mayse says, “I felt like (Obama) compromised too much.”

Now, Mayse adds approvingly, “he’s circumventing (the Republicans) and going straight to the people.”

Enthusiasm is the key

No one is predicting that the frustration out there will cause black voters to cross over en masse and back Obama’s GOP challenger. Not even Herman Cain, an African-American businessman who’s a hit with a surging number of mostly white Republicans, generated much interest among local black voters interviewed last week by the Observer.

The latest breakdown from Public Policy Polling found that 87 percent of North Carolina blacks approve of Obama – down from the 90-plus percent support he received at the polls in 2008, but still very high. (Among all Americans, Obama’s favorability rate now averages 46 percent; among all North Carolinians, 44 percent.)

But polls don’t always measure enthusiasm. Turnout numbers do, and in 2008, black turnout increased by almost 5 percent nationally, while white turnout slightly declined.

If the excitement level for the president is only so-so come Election Day 2012, many black voters may not bother to go to the polls, worries Joel Ford, who was Mecklenburg County Democratic Party chairman when Obama was elected in 2008. That year, Obama carried one westside precinct, 639 votes to 8 – 98.6 percent.

“There is a possibility that some will stay home, and a possibility that some won’t stand in lines,” Ford says. “The president’s got work to do.”

Barber shop co-owner Jermaine Johnson says he and his brother have a lot of “newly unemployed” people among their clientele. And though these customers don’t look to Obama to single-handedly solve their problem, Johnson says, “when you have a president who looks like you and he still can’t push the envelope for you, you get some frustration.”

On the other hand, Johnson says, frustration in the black community also has given rise to, perhaps, a more realistic view about the limits to what one person – even the president of the United States – can do.

“I think it’s still going to be a big (African-American) turnout (in 2012),” he says. “But I don’t think it’s going to be a lot of ‘rah rah’ … because, during his first term, a lot more people have gotten educated on what he can and cannot do.”

There’s also a growing sense that Obama inherited maybe the toughest plate of problems, national and international, since Franklin Roosevelt, who took office during the Great Depression. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were draining money and troops. And the financial meltdown that rocked Wall Street and threatened banks just weeks before Election Day 2008 were causing mass job losses.

“A lot of people are having a reality check,” says veteran Charlotte radio personality Beatrice Thompson, news and public affairs director and talk show host for WBAV and WPEG. “I don’t think anyone truly understood what condition the country was in. … I have to admire (Obama) for not losing his cool given what he had to work with.”

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx says Obama’s seriousness in trying to deal with those big challenges will eventually win over many voters – black and white – who may now feel ambivalent about the president.

“He’s had a tough hand dealt to him, and he’s had to make some tough calls,” says Foxx, who spearheaded the campaign to bring Obama’s 2012 convention to Charlotte. “When the story is told, I think many, many, many people will come back and support him.”

Still, Foxx and others acknowledge that there’s been some complaining that Obama has not paid enough attention to the needs of an African-American community that was there for him in 2008.

Gantt says that same tension was there in the 1980s, when he became the first African-American to be elected Charlotte’s mayor.

“That’s a touchy thing for an African-American president,” he says. “You still have to convince a lot of your electorate – because of your skin color – that you’re there to support the cause of all Americans.”

Johnson C. Smith University senior Kirsten Anderson Hall, an aspiring city manager who’s 20 and will be casting her first presidential vote next year, says she agrees – and disagrees.

“It’s the United States of America, not the United States of America and black people,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean he needs to displace us and forget about us.”

The debate goes on

Back at No Grease, the challenge for Obama is evident from this conversation between customer Jason Vicks, 37, who owns a restaurant and real estate agency, and his barber.

Vicks: “Obama is not doing the hiring. Obama is our president. He can only do what he is able to do…. Obama does not own the restaurant up the street or any business (where) he could employ African-Americans.”

Damian Johnson: “He can create the opportunities for us to hire (black people). If we’re ever going to have an opportunity as a people – black people here in America – this is our prime time to do it, with an African-American president. … He needs to stand up to the powers that be.”

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