This Week for Adriennewrites: Rocky Horror Picture Show, South Side Parenting

THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: Let's Do The Time Warp Again:  L-R:  Staz Nair, Victoria Justice, Laverne Cox, Ryan McCartan and Annaleigh Ashford in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: Let's Do The Time Warp Again, premiering Thursday, Oct. 20 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Steve Wilkie/FOX
THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again: L-R: Staz Nair, Victoria Justice, Laverne Cox, Ryan McCartan and Annaleigh Ashford in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again, premiering Thursday, Oct. 20 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Steve Wilkie/FOX

By now you probably know that I am a contributor to Forbes, where I cover TV, film and music for the online portal of the business magazine. I’ve written seven stories so far, mostly about television, since TV is hot right now as the fall shows solidify their followings and their ratings. Tonight I live tweeted the Rocky Horror Picture Show reboot, which aired on Fox, and I enjoyed following along with other tweeters. Many were a bit pissed that the remake deviated from the original. But, I already knew what to expect.

Lou Adler, the executive producer of the original Rocky Horror and the EP of the reboot, told me  that “what all the critics say is true.” He also said that the original Rocky wasn’t the best movie ever and was certainly “rough around the edges.”  He expected it to be panned by many, but he also expected it to be well received.

To that end, the show was a trending topic Thursday night- even as the Al Smith Dinner trended and the NFL game aired on TV. In the end, Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, was magnificent, and I predict that lots of gold and silver costumes will be on the streets this Halloween.

In other news, I’ve started a new website, southsideparenting.com, where I detail all the cool places to go and fun things to do with your kids on the South Side of Chicago. I created this site because I wish such a site had existed when my oldest was too young for school but old enough for field trips with his mommy. Rather than wait for someone else to figure out that the South Side is pretty damn cool, I decided to make my own site.

Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter. I’ll send you free writing tips!

 

About Ben Carson’s comments on prison and homosexuality…

Ben Carson is brilliant.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the movie “Gifted Hands,” which details how he rose from a less-than-stellar childhood and blossomed into a life as a celebrated neurosurgeon. We used to learn about Ben Carson during Black History Month at church. He made us proud. Since then, he’s also blossomed into a potential GOP presidential candidate and in that area, he’s certainly facing challenges. Chief amongst them are some of the things that he says.

Earlier this week he made a statement on CNN that seemed to link sexuality with sexual preference with jail time, which indirectly references  sexual assault. He essentially said that homosexuality is a choice and as proof of this, he said that prison is proof that heterosexuals can turn into homosexuals.

Yikes.

It was the kind of statement that – as a viewer – made me stop because I knew it would become one of those slow train wrecks. And it did. Once social media’s finest caught wind of the comments, the entire situation went downhill. You can watch the CNN story on the whole fiasco here. Carson also apologized but the damage was done.

Here’s the quote everyone’s up in arms about:

“Because a lot of people went to prison straight and came out gay.” – Ben Carson.

Takepart.com is covering this from every angle.  I wrote a story for them about the very real issue of prison rape and the laws created to stop it. There’s a lot to unpack and yet more to do. In part, here’s what I found out and reported for the website.

Mostly because of the law, we now know a lot about the pervasiveness of the problem. The government has collected thousands of reported cases of sexual assault within prisons. It has also found that correctional officers commit nearly half of reported prison sexual assaults. “PREA gives us really tremendous tools,” says Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. “But implementing a new system always has some problems. It’s going to need refinement.”

 

Let’s talk about it. Hit me up on Twitter @adriennewrites or on Facebook @adriennesamuelsgibbs

 

Russell Simmons took me to yoga class, and I became a better interviewer because of it

Everyone’s talking about “mindfulness.” It’s a new-old sort of Eastern-based mental practice that appears to be coming back into vogue in the greater population. Essentially, to me, it means slowing down to smell the roses, remember to breath and center yourself. And when done correctly, many of the things that stress us out, give us heart attacks and feed our  bad attitudes tend to dissipate.

Mindfulness was the subject of my latest “The 312” column for the Chicago Sun-Times. You can read that here. But that column honestly is only the tip of the iceberg. I was very interested in what Yvonne Furth and Molly Redberg-Leshnock had to say about mindfulness as a tool for business success. The former executive of Draft FCB worked with her colleague, a local university professor, to combine yoga and mindfulness practices with solid business ideals in their recently-published book “From the Yoga Mat to the Corner Office.

In part, they advise us all to slow down enough to be conscious of our breathing, to compliment someone else everyday and to take the time to stretch and draw strength. Furth advises to live in the moment. Our minds are always working overtime, she says, so try to quell the franticness and slow down. Be in the now.

Russell Simmons is a person who seems to have perfected these ideals. His latest book, “SUCCESS THROUGH STILLNESS: Meditation Made Simple” shows how he practices what he preachesIn fact, I know this first hand. I’ll never forget when Simmons invited me to yoga class with him. I’d never participated in yoga before, and we were supposed to be conducting an interview for a magazine story. But, the sun was setting and he said that he has an unbreakable commitment to his yoga practice, so he would prefer to go to class and then conduct an interview. Would I mind going with him?

Of course not! I hopped in the car with him and off we went to a north side studio in Chicago. He also sent an assistant off to buy me a yoga outfit so that I could also participate. I certainly didn’t expect to sweat and breath and stretch before my interview, but it worked out well. He introduced me to yoga, my mind became still and focused, and as a result, I had an excellent story. (That night also included going to a swanky club, having a vegan dinner with a bunch of hip hop stars and Russell having a conversation with my then-boyfriend who called during dinner. I was absolutely mortified that Russell asked my then-boyfriend why I wasn’t engaged yet. But… I’m married now – eight years strong – to the same man, so there you go. Russell even sent me a congratulations text after Mr. Man popped the question.)

It was interesting to me that Russell put mindfulness and meditation above conducting an interview or anything else. He wasn’t being selfish. He was taking care of self. There’s a difference. He also wasn’t flustered about running late, and unlike some other CEOs I’ve met, he just didn’t have that uber ego. He wasn’t flustered about anything and he didn’t have to constantly tell people he was important.

Russell took his time to get centered and he moved on. I learned a lot from that experience. Since then, I’ve found that interviews go better when I take the time to relax and breath before the talk. They go even better when I’m centered for the entire week, as opposed to just the day of the interview. I’m less nervous and for some reason, people really open up to me. (For proof of that, see my Ebony cover story with Tina and Erica Campbell, aka Grammy-winning gospel duo Mary Mary. During the interview, Tina said that she tried to stab her husband with kitchen knife after he admitted to cheating on her with a family friend. WHOA. Let’s just say I missed my flight from LA back to Chicago. And that story? Powerful stuff. You can also read it on my portfolio page and also more about it here.)

All that to say, mindfulness mixed with business is a partnership that works. You just need to take the time out to do it. Some call it prayer. Some call it meditation. When combined with your career, I’ve found that it just amplifies your gift. Or perhaps it’s more that when combined with your career, mindfulness helps you to focus on what’s important and to let go of what’s not. Whatever you call it, it works.

Want to continue this conversation? Hit me up on Twitter @adriennewrites.

Anointed Debate: Should Beyonce Have Performed “Take My Hand, Precious Lord?”

adrienne samuels gibbs

The 2015 Grammys gave us all a lot to discuss. There was the old-young mashups, the kick off with a song about going straight to hell, a Kanye sighting or two or three and a send-off that included one of Black America’s most beloved gospel songs. Beyonce can sing, for sure. But many people took issue with how she sang Thomas Dorsey’s seminal classic – and made in Chicago – song “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. There’s also the issue of how Ledisi sang the song in the movie “Selma” but was unceremoniously left out of the Grammys performance lineup. Welp. I went straight to the sources to figure out what happened here.

This story first appeared on the Chicago Sun-Times website and, I’m proud to say, it garnered quite a bit of clicks that day and the days following. The debate continues though. Should Beyonce have sung that song? I talked with some of the giants of gospel to find out. You can continue the conversation on my Facebook page. Otherwise, read on.

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There’s something everyone should know when considering and analyzing Beyonce’s Grammy performance of Thomas Dorsey‘s gut-wrenching gospel staple “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”

It’s this: The song was written after Dorsey’s wife and newborn baby died and he writhed in pain, begging God to take even a piece of the hurt away. And anyone who is familiar with the African-American church — funerals in particular — has heard this song sung with a gut-punch. It’s not upbeat. It’s not fast. Rather, it’s poignant and intended to show how God does heal the singer and, as many in the black church might say, it offers proof of the “comforter” of the Holy Spirit.

Beyonce in her angel dress at the Grammys. | Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP

It’s not a song to be sung lightly or without consideration. And that’s why there is a schism between those who appreciated Beyonce’s literal, angel-in-a-see-through-dress translation of the song and those who preferred Ledisi’s rendition (as Mahalia Jackson) in the movie “Selma.”

Beyonce also swiftly came online today to post a video explaining why she asked to sing the song.  Being that Chicago’s Pilgrim Baptist Church is the home of Dorsey and the birthplace of gospel music, it is only fair that local musicians and ministers weigh in on the controversy.

Grammy-nominated gospel producer Percy Bady, who sits on the local Grammy chapter, says he woke up to a Facebook timeline chock-full of judgments. “The concern is this: Look, this is a staple for us who grew up in the black church,” says the well-known producer who has years in the industry and is the minister of music for New Life Covenant Church. “And, coming out of Pilgrim Baptist Church here in Chicago, there’s a reverence that we have. No disrespect to Beyonce; she can sing anything. But, her rendition of ‘Precious Lord’ did not move me. It’s one of those songs you sing from another place.”

The writer, Adrienne Samuels Gibbs, saw this on a friend's Facebook timeline this morning in response to a Beyonce post.

He goes on. “I saw it for what it was: She performed. I wasn’t expecting to be slain in the spirit and wallowing on the floor or anything. It almost makes you wonder if this was a situation where the Grammys said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re gonna d0.’”

Bady is not alone. Many of Chicago’s Facebook pundits are saying they believe Beyonce really sang the song because that’s the only way the Grammys could get the superstar to show up for the telecast. The official word, however, from John Legend, is that Beyonce asked, and he and Common said yes.

Regardless. It’s the talk of the town for churchfolk everywhere. The memes alone — some of them using Jackson’s image — are to die for. And of course Black Twitter very quickly created the hashtag #beysus, which was trending by midafternoon the day after the show.

“It wasn’t a bad performance,” says Walt Whitman, founder of the Soul Children of Chicago. “It wasn’t like she was horrible, but maybe it wasn’t the power piece that would best represent that piece of music.”

But, says Whitman, there’s the political side of the performance as well. “There’s so many different levels to this that you’re dealing with. You had all those gospel artists in the room and any one of them could have killed it, but you chose not to. And in some cases, I believe they just don’t know. We’re making assumptions that the people [who produce] the Grammys know about anointing.”

And here’s Whitman’s clincher: “We’re not dealing with church. We’re dealing with people who do music as a profession, and they are looking at numbers and the bottom line for the TV show.”

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The general consensus of those interviewed here is that Queen Bey was not there to bring people to God — and perhaps it was unfair to expect that she might. She’s a secular, not a gospel, artist. “Beyonce did what Beyonce does: She performed,” says singer and Deacon Joi Buchanan-Johnson, also one of the conductors for the woman’s choir at Trinity United Church of Christ. There is a difference between performance and ministry. If you’ve heard the song, you know it was a song that comforted you. And visually [she] has this semi-see-through dress on. Beyonce is a performer to her bone.”

Other pundits say the entire incident — including a so-called “snub” against singer Ledisi, who portrayed Mahalia Jackson and sang “Precious Lord” in the movie — was contrived in order to get more people to talk about the controversy and increase ratings. And on that end, all agreed that Ledisi was gracious in her response to ET’s Kevin Frazier when asked about it:

“What I will say and what I’m excited about is that I had the pleasure of playing an iconic figure in ‘Selma,’ and the song, ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord,’ it’s been going on forever — starting with the queen, Mahalia [Jackson], the queen of soul Aretha Franklin,” said the soul singer. “Then, I was able to portray and sing my version of the song, and now we have Beyoncé. Her generation will now know the song, so I’m a part of history.”

Behind the scenes of independent film “Hogtown”

hogtown2.jpg

It’s not everyday that I get to talk with a director who loves Chicago as much as I do. It’s also not everyday that said director, Daniel Nearing, chooses to highlight an extremely diverse cast in a murder mystery set during the not-oft-discussed Red Summer of 1919. The movie is “Hogtown” – so named for Chicago’s title as the butcher capital of the world.This was a time when white Chicagoans rioted and lynched hundreds of Black people after a little black boy floated to the wrong side of the invisible racial line in the waters of Lake Michigan.

You can click here to read the story on www.suntimes.com or you can keep going and see it below. Nearing’s other film, “Chicago Heights” was about a suburb just south of the city. It’s interesting that Nearing, a white Canadian, has decided to tell stories that encompass the wide variety of history and stories in the city. Read on.

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The following story first appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Sunday Sitdown: Daniel Nearing explains his indie flick ‘Hogtown’

By Adrienne Samuels Gibbs

An image of a frieze from the movie "Hogtown."

Director Daniel Nearing’s “Hogtown” is a Chicago love affair presented in black and white. A true art film, it conjures a time when stark contrast and glared down dialogue defined the cinema. It’s also sort of a combo murder mystery, racial tension exploration and art noir film. With A score performed by the orchestra at the College of William and Mary, it’s a micro-budgeted movie that delivers big. Nearing, 56, has a history of working cable documentaries, but his first film, “Chicago Heights,” earned the attention and praise of Roger Ebert. This second is a kind of variation on a theme. Here’s what else Nearing had to say about “Hogtown.”

In his film more than most, it seems that Chicago is actually a character.

It’s a character for me. Hogtown is Chicago, the hog butcher to the world. The whole back of the yards thing. The whole difficulty of life. Chicago was an acquired tasted for me. I came from a city that didn’t have lot of crime and doesn’t have the racial tensions in the communities you encounter in American cities. Over time I came to fall in love with it. I think of myself as a chronicler of the soul of chicago. that’s what Hogtown tries to do; it tries to get at the essence of what it is to be a Chicagoan in the period in which we live and the prior generations live – a ridiculously ambitious thing to try to do.

How did you achieve the look of the film with it’s high-contrast black and white imagery?

It’s the picture profile in the particular camera we’re using, a Sony. I worked closely with the cinematographer so it would look like the cinematography of Gregg Toland in particular who shot ‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘Grapes of Wrath.’ Really super-black blacks and the contrast is very, very high. You’re focused more on the presence of light and shadow and the characters rather than what’s populating the negative space. We worked on that for a long time.

This is a period piece except it’s not. I spied electric street lights and modern-day El trains.

I wanted an anachronistic approach – to shoot in the contemporary context but have the feel of the period pieces. We call our films ‘period less.’ In 1919, [a character] has an iPhone. We play with that a bit. The suggestion is that the more things change the more they stay the same. Chicago particularly has this underbelly of racism and we may think it changed significantly from 1919, but [the times] are not that much different. A hundred years from now, a historian looking at this time may say [it] blended.

You managed to reference a plethora of important, but not-oft-discussed, events in Chicago’s racial and workers rights history. The Race Riot of 1919, for one.

Carl Sandberg wrote a book about the race riots and the epigraph of our film comes from Sandberg. It was something I didn’t know much about and then came across it. I was surprised how many people died. The deeper meaning that we’ve committed to is that we are talking about the present as much as we are about the past.

Where did you film in Chicago?

Lawrence and Broadway, near the Aragon Ballroom. We shot everywhere and we had such great support. We got locations you normally would have to pay a lot to shoot in.

Such as?

In Indiana there’s a jailhouse that was the actual jail that John Dillinger escaped from. That movie Public Enemies was shot there and they completely renovated it and we shot in there for free. We shot in St. Michael’s Church, the oldest surviving church of the great Chicago fire. The old Naperville Settlement gave us access.

When you say minuscule budget, what does that mean?

It means nobody got paid. No one. And they’re not likely ever to get paid. It’s an experimental film. It is an art film. It is a labor of love. Roger Ebert put our previous film “Chicago Heights,” on his list of his best art films of 2010s . We used that as leverage to tell people we were making something that was worthy for their involvement. We didn’t provide gas money but we did provide food. We had a little bit of budget for costumes. A couple thousand. Melanie Parks did the most incredible job.

The orchestra didn’t get paid either? How did you do that?

They donated talent and time in recording this really beautiful music. I don’t know what’s gonna happen for the third movie but for the first two we just had the incredible good fortune to meet Minister Raymond Dunlap. At the time he was on the south side on 107th and Vincennes and he brought us into his church with his gospel choir and man, I would write lyrics for him. Kill me now. Kill me now. Re (pause) mem (pause) ber this. He takes those simple words and makes this magnificently moving gospel song that I relied on for a lot of different purposes.I also met up with Paul Bassoon, who is now at the College of William and Mary. These old soundtracks, films like ‘Citizen Kane,’ were scored by Bernard Herrmann. I wanted that anachronistic, antique sound like a film from the 40s. I wanted something like a theme from ‘2001 Space Odyssey’ or the Theme from Godfather. Really rich themes that stay with you when you leave the theater.

I couldn’t help but to notice that the only fully naked people in the film are the black people, and one is a child who appears to be an older toddler. Was this race-specific nakedness intended?

I wrote a lot of the screen play in Paris. I spent six weeks there. I”d write in the mornings and in the afternoons go to the museum. A lot of the motifs and elements and aspects of paintings from the Renaissance forward, are in the film. The riot scenes are moving friezes of people borrowed from Greek sculpture. The protagonist is a man who has to be naked. And the women he’s with. The most frank depictions of intimacy come from his relationships. And, I saw all kinds of cherubs in these paintings, and I thought “I’m gonna put cherubs in my movie,” And we put wings on that little boy [and a girl] and had naked. They were not happy with those wings. They were not willing to cooperate. It’s so beautiful. [In the film] it’s him dealing with the reality fo life but it was really him going ‘no I’m not going to put those wings on.’ You see those infants in the paintings. He represents innocence. It’s really a beautiful moment.

Adrienne Samuels Gibbs covers arts and culture for The Chicago Sun-Times. Email her at agibbs@suntimes.com. Tweet her @adriennewrites

Afrobella Dishes on Her New “My Black is Beautiful” Project

Adrienne Samuels GibbsOne of the cool things about my gig is that I have a Sunday column called “The 312,” This week I decided to chat up Patrice “Afrobella” Yursik about her cool new campaign with Procter & Gamble. The company is continuing its “My Black is Beautiful” marketing plan, and as a woman of color, I certainly appreciate and understand why the company is reaching out to women like Yursik. This column appeared in the Sunday, Feb. 22, 2014 issue of The Chicago Sun-Times. You can click here for the link, or you can read the outtakes below.

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The 312: The Business of Black Beauty Blogging

Beauty blogging is big business. Just ask Patrice Grell Yursik, otherwise known as Afrobella.

The former journalist is the face and brains behind one of the internet’s most respected blogger brands: www.afrobella.com. But to that add Yursik’s social media savvy and sassy everyday girl attitude and you begin to understand why her stamp of approval makes her extremely popular with the people who want to put their lotions, potions and perfumes into the hands of the masses.

“You can’t buy a positive review, and I don’t stand behind something I don’t personally touch,” says Yursik, a native Trinidadian who first got her first product itch as a young girl who won a lotion and perfume set in a contest. Since then she’s moved to the States and finished an MFA at the University of Miami and spent some time writing for the alt paper there, the New Times. “In 2006, no one knew blogging was a business.”

But they know now. Yursik has 192,000 Facebook followers, 61,000 Twitter followers and around 14,000 Instagram followers (“I was a late adaptor to Instagram,” she says, thoughtfully. “I regret that now.”) And those followers know that women of color, curvy women and women who have decided to ditch chemical hair treatments are a huge market. Yursik – who fits into all three before-mentioned categories –  was one of the first to seriously celebrate and then monetize brown-skinned beauty on the internet. In fact, she was doing it years before Vogue in 2010 decided to create a black channel offshoot of their brand. She was also one of the first bloggers invited to write for the site, which can be found at http://www.vogue.it/en/vogue-black

More recently, the South Loop resident curated a “My Black is Beautiful” box of goodies from the world of Procter & Gamble. The company, which owns brands such as Covergirl and Oil of Olay, reached out to Yursik for this Black History Month promotion. The company already works with Queen Latifah, so bringing Yursik into the fold seemed to make sense – especially when you consider her reach.

“The intention behind this is that we are all multifacted,” says Yursik, whose face and YouTube story is part of the MBIB marketing campaign and website. “The box was for influencers. And I selected things that keep you happy and lift your spirit. I tried to pick vibrant, hot, fun colors to transition from winter to spring to summer.”

Procter & Gamble isn’t the only business doing this. The black-owned Fashion Fair Cosmetics kickstarted the trend decades before brands such as MAC and L’Oreal started to catch on to the new “hot” market. Back when Yursik started her blog, there were just a handful of companies that deliberately created , say, a large range of lipsticks that could be comfortably worn by women of color. But now? Everyone caters to a wider variety of skin tones.  L’Oreal has a multicultural beauty research facility on 21st and Wabash. And, market intelligence agency Kline in 2014 found that the multicultural beauty products market outpaced the growth of general market cosmetics and increased by 3.7 percent in the United States alone.

But when Yursik talks about it, it’s clear she didn’t get into blogging for the dollars. “Our beauty cannot be defined by mainstream standards,” says Yursik. “I wanted a celebration of our unique beauty.”

Adrienne Samuels Gibbs is a writer for The Chicago Sun-Times. Reach her at agibbs@suntimes.com or @adriennewrites on Twitter.

Hanging with Zoe Saldana…

I know. I know. Some of you aren’t happy with Zoe telling me that she won’t be complaining about a lack of roles for Black women in Hollywood. And yes it’s true that other actresses, in other cover stories, have told me that there IS a problem.

Before you casttoo much more judgment, why not read the entire piece? Find it in September’s Ebony.

And to answer some of those Twitter questions: yes, she’s fun; yes, she’s tall; and yes, we really did talk about birth control. #newlywedchat