Harry and Meghan’s Master Class on Real Change

A few months ago a neighbor and I got to talking about Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, known on this side of the pond as Meghan Markle. My neighbor is like me in a way: much more abreast of the happenings with the Windsors than typical Americans.

“She is going to break under the pressure.” And as for Harry, “I feel like he’s going to stray.”

I wasn’t so convinced, on either count. Let’s take a deeper look at who we’re talking about, if I may as a realist with an optimistic inclination. She’s achieved respectability and success as a TV actress in Hollywood. It’s an industry notorious for subjecting women to intense scrutiny, and doubles down on that scrutiny with extra disrespect when it comes to Black and mixed-race women like Meghan. I’ve seen everything from wildly rude and catty red carpet slights, invectives hurled in the comment sections of women’s online magazines to racist insults and death threats on social media. Hopefully, the devouring pressures of Hollywood might have prepared Ms. Markle for what was to come of life in The Firm, as the British royal family is known? And besides, her husband is a distant heir to the throne. His whole close family would have to pass away for him to ascend. Without the heavy weight of the crown in his future, it seems like the Sussexes could carve their own path in a way that protects their family and confers more dignity to that institution status.

Well, it looks like my neighbor and I were both right, in different ways. Meghan has been unhappy, as my neighbor thought. She isn’t putting on a stiff upper lip and facing down the press, like I thought she would, though.

Together with her husband, Meghan announced a plan to address their dissatisfaction on Instagram.

And then came that clip from the behind the scenes documentary of their travel to Africa, in which Meghan explained to the interviewer that things are tough, and very few people really ask about how she is doing. It should have been a reality check for a lot of royal watchers. But like Americans and their fervent obsession with their guns, regardless of how many lives are sacrificed, the Brits don’t care whose lives are tormented, as long as they get their royal fix. Their feeble and threadbare justification is that taxpayers pick up the tab for the Sussexes’ security, travel and living expenses. I bet none of these mixed-race yahoo-neanderthals even know what kind of an impact crater these costs are leaving in their household budgets. Even if they knew the few pence they have to part with per annum, none of that would entitle the public to their ravenous, voyeuristic obsession with every aspect of the Sussexes’ lives or the openly racist insults that have been hurled at Ms. Markle and her son. But what can you expect from that ilk.

A lot of people conveniently forget that Prince Harry has survived public scandal, had public relationships and he has matured into a grown man who will make his own decisions. More than likely Ms. Markle appeals to an independent streak, and a willingness to be more connected to the world of possibilities, instead of tied to frigid, overcast England, the institutions that come with being the king, and the bloodsuckers called the British press.

Remember all the hullabaloo and fuss after the Cambridges’ wedding, when Will drove that Aston Martin from the wedding, and how the press gushed that ‘this is a modern couple doing things their way?’ The Brits have a pretty low bar for what it means to be ‘independent,’ don’t they? 

What tickles me is to watch some of these grown women barely conceal their bitterness that a commoner, a biracial American divorcee and former TV actress not only married the Prince of England, but “lure him away” so that they couldn’t get their daily “bash a royal” fix.

Oh, England. Take a clue — or several — from other European royal houses and chill.

So! This is a wise move on the part of the Sussexes. Hopefully, all things will work for their advantage for the most part. 

And tell me, if the British monarchy receives the mother of all shake-ups and is abolished, say, before Prince George can take the throne, whom do you think will be better positioned to adapt to private, financially independent lives? A couple where the wife established her wealth, success and respect before she married her prince, or a crown prince and the perfectly nice wife who never did?  

 

Meghan Said ‘Yes’ to Prince Harry’s Proposal!

Blame it on my tea-drinking commonwealth heritage or my love of Jane Austen, monogrammed stationery, and bone china. But when the British royals announced on Monday that American actress and humanitarian Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are engaged, I took notice.

Meghan Markle and Prince Henry of Wales spilled the news outside of Clarence House in London.

We should have all suspected that Ms. Markle was going to get a special ring (and it is special, let me tell you!) when faithful monarch watcher Vanity Fair reported last month that Meghan intended to move to London, give up her acting career and focus on philanthropy full-time.

It’s almost another Grace Kelly type of situation, where an American actress married into a reigning European monarchy and the already intense media curiosity was turned up quite a few notches. Ms. Markle is widely popular due to her work on the successful TV show “Suits,” via STARZ, and her long record of admirable humanitarian and philanthropic work.

Why do we care? Down-to-earth Meghan is one of us.

One of the reasons Prince Harry and Ms. Markle’s engagement is attracting interest — aside from his lineage — is her lineage: She is biracial, with an African-American mother and a white father. On that historical side note, the couple is not a ‘first.’ Prince Harry comes second to Prince Maximilian of Liechtenstein in scooping up an African-American bride. He married then Angela Gisela Brown, a New York fashion designer, in 2000. Her Serene Highness Princess Angela is first person of known African origin to marry into a reigning European monarchy. They have one son, Prince Alfons Constantin Maria of Leichtenstein.

They’ve got a growing teenager on their hands!

It’s hard to tell what it is about American women that have these two European princes besotted, but they are obviously happy.

How the news unfolded

Technically, His Royal Highness (HRH) The Prince of Wales – or Prince Charles to the common folk and foreigners – announced the engagement of this very adult couple. Apparently, they will have the ceremony at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in May 2018, and life afterward at Nottingham Cottage in Kensington Palace.

I must say … I like how these Windsors set up their chapels and ‘snug’ cottages.

Kensington Palace, the residence of HRH Queen Elizabeth II, announced the statement from Meghan’s parents, Doria Ragland and Thomas Markle.

The Independent, one of Great Britain’s more well-regarded newspapers of record, has all kinds of details about the engagement and the ring, but here is a photo: 

It’s pretty special, with the large center stone from Botswana (they recently vacationed there) and the two outer stones from the private collection of Lady Diana, formerly HRH Princess of Wales.

You could say that the engagement breaks with centuries of British royal tradition, and it does. Markle is divorced. Also, her African lineage on her mother’s side could make the royal family more diverse and, according to some, reduce some of the stigmas that some Black British citizens have felt living in that society.

I don’t know about that last part, though, racial issues aside. Perhaps contemporary non-white Britons have been so fed up with the other side of what the Windsor family represents — a lineage enriched by centuries of England oppressing foreigners and its lower classes — that the monarchy is far less enthralling as it used to be. One tourist from Los Angeles who was outside Buckingham Palace when the news broke said:

“It’s exciting that he’s engaged to an American, I think that’s every American girl’s dream,” she said. “Now there’s hope for us Americans, for American girls.”

Is it every American girl’s dream to fall in love with and marry a wealthy prince? I don’t agree, for the obvious reason that young girls have a vast array of accessible dreams to them today. Girls of African descent, in particular, are taught to put their hope and trust in their own abilities and not to entertain too many hopes of being swept away by a rich, handsome husband. Especially not in modern American society, where it takes two incomes to live well. That was the case with both Princess Angela and Meghan Markle. They were both super accomplished professionals before their merit landed them in the company of these to-be-smitten princes.

Of course, when Black women grow up they are not above bestowing the affectionate term ‘my king,’ or ‘my Boaz’ on their husbands. But that is for a later conversation about the differences between Black womanism and white feminism.

 

Don’t Be Surprised When Race Bending Comes Full Circle

I call myself a movie buff and patron of the theater, but I’ve always found the entertainment industry to be incorrigibly absurd, always asking audiences to suspend disbelief in poorly conceived plot twists and editing choices. And I hold the powers that be in a permanent state of suspicion when it comes to finding fair and believable ways to include Black actors in creative output.

That’s why I’m ambivalent about this whole “race bending” practice spreading through the entertainment industry right now.

Sometimes I bring a theatrical view of things to the table, where you can see how iconic characters would be played by someone outside of the original race for the stage. Photos emerged this week of the Granger-Weasley family in the new stage production of “Harry Potter and The Cursed Child,” and Hermoine has grown up to be a Black woman. They have a daughter with a mane of thick, naturally coily hair, dark skin and a mischievous Weasley glint in her eyes.

Ron-Hermione-Rose

Quite a few people who consider themselves to be enlightened anticipated “the haters” and quickly clapped back at people who pointed out that the casting was not in line with Hermoine as portrayed in the original series of books. Twitter lit up with avid readers highlighting passages describing Hermoine’s “white skin,” and other allusions to her being a white English rose. In most cases, I would side with the ones cheering on whatever is supposed to be going on here. I’m just not sure what that is: Progress? Pure, talent-based, colorblind casting? A … bait and switch in the making?

Rose-Granger-Weasley

I have nothing against the actresses playing Hermoine Granger-Weasley and Hermoine’s daughter Rose. They are attractive and the young girl’s charm radiates through the promotional photo. You just know she’s going to put down a remarkable performance as a witch with her mother’s brains, an unbridled heart like her father’s, and the astonishing talents of both parents.

To be clear, race bending is not what happens when a Black actor is cast in a role from an original screenplay where the race or ethnicity of a character has not been explicitly or reasonably established. Whitney Houston in “The Bodyguard” is a great example. When a Black actor’s management gets wind of an opportunity to play a dynamic and appealing character, one whose race and ethnicity isn’t established in the script, there is nothing better than that rep really pushing for his or her talent to take on that role. May the best talent win, and if it goes to a Black actor, all is fair.

Race bending happens when, for instance, James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad led a Black production of “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.” (I missed the brilliant and sublime Anika Noni Rose as Maggie the Cat!) Or Candice Patton signed on as Iris West, the soulmate and destined wife of DC superhero Barry Allan, AKA The Flash.  It was one thing when Black actors took roles in which the character was always depicted, described or drawn, as white, or it was plainly and reasonably understood that those characters were white. Opportunities for Black actors were scarce and narrowly written, because stories about Black life — all aspects of it — were scarce and narrowly written. Also, the mainstream stories themselves were so appealing. What actress wouldn’t relish the chance to bring her interpretation to one of Tennessee Williams’ women fraying at the edges? And I have to admit that Candice Patton is doing a terrific job in her portrayal as Iris West.

But I think the jaded entertainment industry needs to snap out of its culture malaise and produce stories around themes that are definitely about Black people, portrayed by people who are recognizably Black. We no longer live in an age where trauma-laden slave narratives and one dimensional melodramas of homespun wisdom are the only opportunities available for Black actors who want to work. Black actors, and the culturally diverse casts that they are part of, have more than proven that they are bankable, whether the story is a sensitive and heartfelt offering in the fall, or a pyrotechnic summer blockbuster. The way forward, at least in my opinion as a discerning viewer, is to produce stories where Blacks are everything: alluring and demure; noble and ignoble; complex and rich with troubled pasts; or single-mindedly devoted to whatever twisted agenda drives a thriller. You know … stories!

I don’t want to overthink Harry Potter because it’s only Harry Potter. High-minded issues like fair representation in works of film are probably best left to serious dramas and feature films. What troubles me here is that young Black people are already enthusiastically celebrating the reimagined casting in “Harry Potter and The Cursed Child,” as if this decision is some indication that predominantly white culture has finally learned to look past our skin color, etc., to see only talent and content of character when they need someone to fill a role. It hasn’t. It has copped out of recognizing enchanting stories and characters from non-white cultures in favor of slotting Black actors into white culture. As charming as the world of Harry Potter is, it is still a very white, English world. Everyone else just slots into it, regardless of what flavorful delectables were packed in the Ziploc containers for the train ride, or the native language that was being spoken in their homes while their mothers hurried them to pack their bags to head for Platform 9 and 3/4. As much as I respect Ms. Rowling and give her all the props for spinning a world we can all get lost in, total assimilation without so much as a glance into a Black person’s heritage (or other person of color’s) is not flattering.

If viewers continue to support Hollywood’s culture copout, then pretty soon you’ll see Hollywood casting directors develop the audacity to do a remake of “The Color Purple,” with a cast of illiterate, toothless white Appalachians. Our beloved “The Wiz” will be white one day, with people dancing on the ones and threes. Get ready for a reimagining of Octavia Butler’s hallowed “Kindred” with Scots-Irish indentured servants, not Black slaves. By failing to create storylines and roles around what makes us special, they ignore our identity — and I hate it when white people shrug and say narrow-minded things like, “I don’t see color,” as if ignoring what’s right in from of them somehow makes them enlightened. It doesn’t.

If you believe I’m “overthinking it,” you are in the dark on this issue. White decision makers are already whitewashing Asian characters out of stories that are distinctly Asian, choking Asian actors off work that is rightfully theirs. Just look into what Asian actors think of what Hollywood is doing to stories that represent them and their culture, starting with the Twitter campaign #whitewashedOUT.

A Changed House, A Changing America

We just dodged a massive blizzard in the Northeast, but we still got snowstorms and my daughter’s school is closed today. That means I’m taking advantage of the free day to cornrow my daughter’s hair into an up-do, and watching reruns of “Fixer Upper,” a new show on HGTV. “Fixer Upper” is hosted by Chip and Joanna Gaines, who look like an interracial couple themselves, and this episode featured a renovation for Chuck Codd and Charmaine Hooper, a former soccer striker who played for Canada’s women’s national team.

The Cobb-Hoppers on the porch of their new home.

The Chuck, Charmaine and their daughter on the porch of their new home.

The Codd and Hooper bought a residence considered the neighborhood’s “haunted house,” and the Gaines transformed it into a true show stopper. They are geniuses, and their work was featured in this Web slideshow article about it.

In any case, Codd and Hooper are an interracial couple, which is something that the show never touched on. They are just an American family with an eight-year-old daughter, and they represent how diverse our country is becoming. This is the natural course of life, folks. The misogynists and the haters can thrash, cuss and stink up social media all they want.

I’m all for avoiding an overwrought mood and feel when it comes to talking about relationships like mine. And the show simply focused renovation, design and decoration, and on the couple’s decision making process — which house to buy, what renovations it will need, and whether all of the costs fall within their budget. Finally, the Gaines sit the couples down to discuss what they did to the homes, and how much equity the generated by investing in the rehab. These are big choices, because as we know an American family’s most valuable asset is often their home. (Financial advisors will often prefer to exclude the primary residence when figuring out a household’s investable assets.)

Now the Cobb-Hoppers live in a truly gracious home. You should check out the ‘before’ photos when the Gaines first saw it. Shudder!)
HGTV Cobb Hooper Kitchen

HGTV Cobb Hopper Ship Lamp Room

Looking Forward to Zoe’s Story

It’s been a year since actress Zoe Saldana married Italian artist Marco Perego, and did so in such privacy that my nosy (and overworked, tired, blog-neglecting) self missed it. Well, she wants to talk about it now, and I’m interested in hearing what she has to say.

The Huffington Post has a preview and excerpt from Edit magazine.

20140315-083656.jpg

“I’m not a private person, but I am discreet, so [getting married in secret] felt right,” the 35-year-old actress tells the new issue of Net-A-Porter’s The Edit, which she covers. … As for why she decided to finally tie the knot with Italian artist Perego, whom she quietly married in England last June, Saldana says he brings out the best in her.

Zoe is a favorite beautiful woman at Black Like Mom, so let’s wish her all the best as God enlarges her territory.

Lupita’s Taking Meetings!

Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o made a big splashdown into Hollywood with her appearance in “12 Years A Slave,” and it looks like her career will stay afloat. The Hollywood Reporter is saying that Nyong’o has been taking meetings for potential film roles. Among the prospects:

  • a meeting with J.J. Abrams, for the female lead role in “Star Wars: Episode VII”
  • a courtroom drama, “The Whole Truth,” co-starring Daniel Craig

Between these career-driving lunches and her photo shoots, Lupita is on the run!

Image

Off to another script reading?

This is great news, because Lupita is yet another accomplished, impressive Black woman, with her eloquence, global perspective on life (she also has Mexican citizenship) gracious way of carrying herself and her talent. She deserves to work as much as she likes. (Have you seen the movie yet?  Do try!) She is fast becoming one of my favorite actresses, thinkers and high-profile personalities in general. Along with Kerry Washington, whose brains and beauty made her the toast of Hollywood last year, I feel like Lupita also represents the cream of the crop of young Hollywood. Period. Across the board, regardless of race. For Black girls in particular, however, I think she is an important source of artistic and intellectual inspiration, as well as pride. They can’t have too many heroes, in my opinion!

As Lupita’s awards poured in (she’s also just been nominated for an MTV movie award, BTW), I secretly hoped that her confirmed movie roles would too. Her iMDB profile was oddly quiet, though. Where were the titles of projects noted as in pre-production? Was Hollywood simply indulging a passing fascination with her rare beauty, or were they merely preparing for how to put her gifts to their best use? I’m rooting for the latter, and if I means that I have to haul @ss, take a screenwriting course, win millions in the lottery and write and executive produce a project for her myself — well, then so be it! She has a lot more to offer, and I’m here for just about all of it by any means within my grasp. LOL!

A Heaven-Sent Voice Returns Home

Give me one moment in time, when I’m more than I thought I would be

When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away, and the answers are all up to me

About a year ago, I steered our family station wagon through the narrow hoary streets of East Orange, consulting a scrap of paper with directions to a health food store. I drove past a rambling red brick building marked with a monumental sign on the threadbare front lawn: the Whitney E. Houston Academy of Performing Arts. The building was set far back from the street, and the lawn was framed with what I thought was skimpy landscaping. I wondered about that place of learning: Was it a district, charter, magnet or private school? Was it well supported by its namesake and benefactors? If so, couldn’t the supporters have done more to spruce it up, especially since the namesake has such a polished public image?

An uncomfortable feeling followed the first thought: By 2011, Whitney Houston had fallen from grace. Years of drug use, to which she publicly admitted and a hard-to-break cigarette habit, seemed responsible for damaging her uniquely glorious voice. Her public struggles to leave a wacky marriage and overcome substance abuse had taken apart the persona of a charming, articulate, poised and intelligent young woman with the world at her feet.

Yet Whitney was not, at heart, the coarse-talking riff raff that mean-spirited detractors say she “really was.” Her real, actual history was of a mesmerizingly cute impish girl, in middle-class East Orange, NJ.  The music world has its nobility and peerage, and she hailed from the House of Drinkard-Houston, LOL. Look them up, including her mother, aunts and cousins, and it becomes easier to process how someone could be that gifted vocally. Whitney was the gift that kept on giving. She was also a ground-breaking and highly sought after teen fashion model, with a thriving career that was translating nicely into television roles. She appeared on Gimme A Break, SilverSpoons and was offered the part of Sandra Huxtable on The Cosby Show.  By the time her music career had taken off, she had already traveled the world with her mother and Dionne Warwick, met and worked with the likes of Chaka Khan and Luther Vandross, and developed a work ethic that made her very appealing to music and casting directors who needed reliable, talented people to complete projects. One way or another, Whitney was destined for stardom. So all this talk about her “fake” public image is pure nonsense from cruel, hardened cynics.

Yet there was no doubt that years of being hounded by an inhumane press, lashings from an ungrateful and vulgar public, all compounded by marital betrayal worsened a natural proclivity to abuse substances. Whitney seemed as lost emotionally as I was geographically at that moment. She was working on reclaiming her former glory, directions in hand, her destination in view. Looking at the school, I silently prayed that the woman would continue her comeback, finally conquer her problems and enjoy a natural, long life. As much as I was aware of her problems, I couldn’t bash her and write her off: Her voice, clear, strong beautifully honed as European leaded crystal, had brightened many of my dark and moody adolescent days. It ministered to me, and I couldn’t drag her like some of these other sickos were doing.

To say that last week’s word of Whitney’s death shocked me is an understatement. She had too much in common with me, my cousins and contemporaries for any of us to filter this news out as yet another troubled, brilliant singer who could not save herself from ruin. Like us, she was black, talented, grew up in church, nestled amidst a family of talented, resourceful and driven women. She came from hardscrabble inner city surroundings in northern New Jersey and achieved—here is where she was quite special—phenomenal and unrivaled success at her craft. Yet she maintained a presence in the state and always owned a home here. It is safe to say that all Jersey girls are loyal, and no amount of fame or success will make her pull up roots from the state completely. She always leaves a piece of her heart here, and comes back to visit every now and then.

I couldn’t have abandoned Whitney then, and cannot now. The public still does not know exactly what caused her death last week, although it has been widely reported that she was found underwater in the bathtub of her hotel room. Part of me is still hoping that it was all an accident, and that her vices did not play a part in her demise.  There is also a temptation to blame her tempestuous marriage for keeping her mired in drug use, even if that relationship wasn’t responsible for introducing her to cocaine or whatever else she might have used to self-medicate. Some might say that had she devoted that singular voice to gospel music, she would have avoided the risky behaviors that attends the popular and R&B music scenes so often, and she might still be alive and thriving. But gospel is a well-trod hunting ground for R&B talent, and with her connections and obvious talent, Whitney would have faced unrelenting pressure to change genres. No, she was destined for the musical career that she had. And there is no guarantee that had she overcome addictions, her personal relationships would have fared as well. She was known to be stubborn, and those personalities can be hard to live with. And yet, I am still in her corner as much as I can be, hoping that she finds eternal peace.

I remember watching a video of Whitney Houston belting out the Star-Spangled Banner months ago and thinking: Is such a phenomenon really gone forever? Other singers have a higher range, but few had the crystal purity, exquisite refinement, sweetness and fire, and of course resilient strength of Whitney’s vocals in its heyday. And her heyday was a very long period.  The signature song “I Look to You,” from her comeback album, went gold, even though her vocals had been clearly diminished. She displayed a level and quality of singing that is still out of reach for a lot of people. Had she found the inner strength to save herself, to preserve her gift, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that her second career act would have been unassailably awesome.

I can accept that tragic untimely deaths happen all the time, and to much younger people. It is upsetting that Whitney did not seem to overcome her demons, worse that her voice seemed tarnished forever and that she might have had to live to see her glory fade, and regret it bitterly. Now all of that pining has to come to an end. Whitney’s funeral gets underway Saturday, and everyone will have to begin letting go of their hopes and dreams for her at that point. Yet it feels unnecessary and cruel that someone who had the support of mentors, protégés, family and fans, and who was pressing her way toward perfection again would be kept back from it. It just seems wrong that a singer whose voice embodied the American ethos of striving and moving forward should have slipped under the surface of the water for good.