we are…

WE ARE SPIRITUAL BEINGS ON A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY ENCASED IN HUMAN VESSELS

truth…

TRUTH stands naked, comfortable in its skin….unequivocal, loving the sound of its voice……

ZERO (for World AIDS Day 2012)

When is zero valuable?

Numerically desirable?

When is zero a prize

On which to keep one’s eyes?

To be sought after, savoured

Fought for and favoured?

 

Zero, as in when there will be

No new cases of HIV

This journey will have begun

When we get back to One

Living in and as the One

We are inseparable from

Will help us remember

That our body-temple is a treasure

To be guarded with grace

Treated with reverence

 

Remembering who we are

Reducing our risk

Recalling whose we are

Claiming wellness

Embracing our Christ-self

Reclaiming wholeness

(Re)valuing self

Reducing risk

To zero

 

Being diagnosed as HIV-positive

Can become power to live

Positively

Guided divinely

Positive prevention

No re-infection

Acknowledging that ARV access

Does not guarantee adherence

 

To get to Zero

Positive and negative

Must become one

a community

Of love, support

Prayers & affirmations

Spoken as one

Hearts & hands lifted

In unison

Consciousness held as one

To overcome challenges

Across boundaries

Embracing diversity

Confronting discrimination

With policies that protect

 

We must stand

In our Oneness

Keep working

Towards zero

Because we are more

More than our sexual orientation

More than our HIV status

More than anti-retrovirals

More than risky behaviour

More than moments

Of passing pleasure

We are more

We are….enough

                                  © fabian thomas (25/11/11)

#10

I’m rebuilding my life and self….I am embracing new paradigms, affirming triumphant breakthroughs and am committed to spending more time with people I value and love…..

I AM A V-MAN

Anybody who mouths the cliché that men are stronger sex simply has not been paying attention! Throughout my life I have been blessed, challenged and changed by the often numbing violence, aggression and attacks on their bodies and souls that women whose paths I have crossed have been subjected to, endured and survived.

Case in point: a young lady who worked with me in Jamaica was molested and treated violently virtually shackled since 13 by raped. Raped like fruit picked and devoured before ripening. She was violated again by her stepmother’s demand for silence. She silently inhaled the smell of shame, swallowed the bile of blame. This ingestion clouded her mind, bloated not her belly, but her spirit. Her skin stretched paper-thin over her lovely frame making it next to impossible for her to feel comfortable in her own skin. When I met her, she was beautiful, stunning and talented, but never saw or felt that. She tried to commit suicide twice during the time she worked for me….she had been some maimed and damaged by the violence & abuse…it took lots of love, counseling, tears and pain, but thankfully she continues to heal and is alive today

While living in NYC I went to hear a poet called Sapphire read (she wrote Push, which is the source of the script for the movie Precious).  She stood there weaving her soul into tapestries of prose and poetry. Her hard, edgy, unapologetic luminous words emitted sparks from her soul that threatened to blind me, stretched an umbilical cord through space, time and gender and forced me to open my eyes, ears and heart as she poured stories wrenched from her psyche, throat, breasts and vagina. I felt like a voyeur peeping into the moist, murky, menacing depths of her life. My first reaction was to dismiss what I was hearing and feeling as histrionics, but instead I relaxed and allowed her words, her pain to erode my male security. Then a life-changing thing happened: the abuse that was hers became mine, my soul started to scream and I became a little girl with whipped cream, semen and blood on my lips, a river of blood flowed from my vagina to my anus and I wanted to gather her in my arms and hold her, until the pain stopped, until the storm passed over. I wanted to return and restore her childhood, her virginity. I was overcome to reconstruct the shattered fragments of her little-girl pelvis, bathe and balm her tortured anus with my hands. She stood there; proud, powerful, goddess risen from the quagmire….my life has never been the same.

As a man, I continue to be stunned, impacted and affected, angered and
stimulated by the cultures of violence against women all over the world in general, and in my particular home Jamaica…the stories I’ve heard and seen have made me be committed to talking about the need for dialogue, action, mitigation, justice, cultural & legal shifts.

The incredible honour of being the V-Day* Kingston Organizer for 5 years has been a natural and rewarding extension, addition, chapter in my transformation and journey. I proudly call myself a V-Man!!

*V-Day is a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. V-Day is a catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations. V-Day generates broader attention for the fight to stop violence against women and girls, including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation (FGM) and sexual slavery. Eve Ensler’s critically acclaimed The Vagina Monologues was the catalyst for V-Day.

Through V-Day campaigns, local volunteers and college students produce annual benefit performances of The Vagina Monologues to raise awareness and funds for anti-violence groups within their own communities.

THE FAMILY THAT PREYS: Tyler Perry ‘s Triumphant Return to Fine Form

If you have ever been in a conversation with, or about artists, their art and sources of inspiration, you’ve probably heard the ubiquitous examples and anecdotes about the suffering artist and the powerful and unceasing catalyst of suffering, despair and hard times. If Tyler Perry is to be believed his latest production The Family That Preys was borne from such a source. In a post on his disarmingly honest and gracious website email update he shares that he wrote this script while in the doldrums from being used, abused, victimized and cheated. He says he was not in a good space and was questioning the authenticity of family, so-called friends and mankind in general. If Perry is to be believed, I have to say, that while I wish no one ill, I wish him more hard-knock inspiration if it will bear fruit as sweet and tasty as The Family That Preys.

While Meet the Browns left me feeling rather dissatisfied, The Family That Preys more than makes up for the gap left by its predecessor. This film more than adequately redeemed Perry and his ability to write, direct and produce a great film.

With engrossing cinematography, a well-crafted, multi-layered script, solid direction and superb acting this film reaches out from the screen, pulls the audience in, connects us with the heart and pulse of the characters, then puts us back in our seats, sated, satisfied and saying: Yes!

The story revolves around 2 very different families connected by their dissimilar matriarchs Alice Pratt (Alfre Woodard) who runs a diner and business woman and socialite Charlotte Cartwright (Kathy Bates). When the movie beginsAlice’s eldest daughter Andrea (Sanaa Lathan) is marrying a nervous Chris (Rockmond Dunbar) in a lavish wedding paid for by Cartwright. Andrea is cynical and aloof, much to the chagrin of her sister Pam (Taraji P. Henson) whose husband Bill (Tyler Perry) is Chris’ comforting best man. Enter stage left,Charlotte’s son and heir William (Cole Hauser) and his wife (Kadee Strickland). His attraction to the newly wed Andrea is palpable and insidious. Let the games begin. Jump four years and Andrea now works for the Cartwrights as an accountant, alongside William in the family’s high-powered firm, Chris is also employed to them, but further down the totem pole as a construction worker on one of their projects (as is Bill).  In this wonderful patchwork of possibilities, Perry deftly delineates the plots and sub-plots that include: the pain of infidelity, the power of friendship, coping with a chronic illness, the adventure of a road trip, marital incompatibility, office politics, family feuds, dreams of a better life, inter-racial relationships and class separations.

In addition to the overall end result of a well-written, explored, expanded and credible script, Perry ups the ante and tickles his audience with some inspired, memorable and snappy one-liners: most of them were gifts given to seasoned actresses Woodard and Bates. One of my favourites is when Bates’ son questions her trust in him, she replied: “Oh I do trust you, it’s your private thoughts that give me pause”

The recipe for a movie that resonates with its audience must have ingredients that work in tandem: the final ingredient here is a cast that is up to the task of matching or exceeding the other components of the project. For The Family That Preys, Perry assembled  a cast worth their weight in gold. This array of fine actors gave performances that range from credible and committed to riveting and effortless.  In the relatively small role of William Cartwright’s wife Kadee Strickland turned in a commendable and credible performance. For his part, Cole Hauser was well-cast as William. He brought a cold, calculating, almost reptilian quality to the role that added a great deal to the role and the film. Tyler Perry must have been aware of the company he was in and turned in one of the best performances I seen him give as Bill. He’s usually unstoppable as Madea, especially on-stage, but most of his movie roles often feel like walk ons, that was not the case here.  Robin Givens makes a strong return to the big screen as Abby Dexter, who Charlotte hires as the new COO of the company business, a job her son thought he was guaranteed. Taraji P. Henson is always quite good on-screen and she does not disappoint here. She turns in an honest, gritty and convincing portrayal as Pam. I look forward to seeing this young lady advance her career. Rockmond Dunbar, who has the looks and talent of a leading man, was efficient and controlled as the beleaguered Chris. I hope we see him in more films and in even more challenging roles.

That brings me to the three women who I felt outdid themselves in this film, the usually sweet good girl Sanaa Lathan was in exceptional form in a disturbingly accurate and realistic performance as the damaged and spiteful Andrea. She was stunning as she balanced physical beauty and spiritual ugliness. Kathy Bates was delightful and adept in her effortless turn as Charlotte. She masterfully juggled the characters tough-as-nails exterior and eye-for-an-eye morality, with her vulnerability, zest for life, infectious laughter and loyalty.

Alfre Woodward gave a simply flawless performance asAlice. The veteran actress dug deep and delivered a completely convincing, moving, and nuanced interpretation of a woman who had been through a lot, survived to tell it and maintained a heart and soul full of love and patience. She is radiant and without parallel in this film.

There is a saying in theatre and film, which says there are no small parts, in celebration of this adage, I must mention and give kudos to Kaira Whitehead who gave a dazzlingly delicious and memorable characterization of spunky and mischievous Cartwright receptionist Robin She was, in a word: wonderful!

There are only two things I would change about The Family That Preys: Pam’s character could have been explored and developed a bit more and Bill’s distracting mini-afro has got to go!

All told, The Family That Preys is a triumph, and in true Perry style, the writer, director, producer delivers a parting crowning glory at the end of the movie in Gladys Knight soul-stirring remake of Martina McBride’s I Hope You Dance. In response I say: “We will Tyler, we will!”

 

 

A GRITTY ‘PRECIOUS’ GEM

Life is hard. Life is short. Life is painful. Life is rich. Life is….Precious. (approved tagline for Precious)

I was curious and more than mildly excited about seeing the Lionsgate Films release Precious. My curiosity was piqued by the tendency of many Jamaicans to hunger for and support comedies more than any other genre. Jamaica is a place where the majority of consumers of the theatre arts seem to damn dramas and feast upon hyperbolic caricatures spawned by popular culture. The artistic mirror, if it is to be held up at all, is expected to ‘meck wi laugh’, not make us think or learn. While speckled with moments of amusement and even laughter, the subject matter explored and presented in Precious is no laughing matter, and unapologetically so.

My excitement was more personal. While living in New York, I had the life-changing opportunity to meet Sapphire, who wrote the controversial and critically acclaimed novel Push (the source of Geoffrey Fletcher’s powerful screenplay Precious). At the risk of sounding corny, after hearing her read from her stunning anthology American Dreams and seeing her perform, my life as a writer/poet/spoken word artist, in fact, as a man was irrevocably changed.

Push is an emotionally charged, disturbing novel written from the perspective and in the language of a young, poor and functionally illiterate black woman whose life has been defined by sexual, emotional, and physical abuse. Clareece ‘Precious’ Jones lives in Harlem, New York with her violent, foul-mouthed and abusive mother Mary, who is an overweight shut-in. Mary repeatedly beats, berates, bullies and sexually molests Precious. Pregnant with her second child fathered by her biological father, Precious is expelled from her high school and enrolled in an alternative school called Each One Teach One in hopes that her life can head in a new direction, much to Mary’s caustic chagrin since the welfare cheques she gets for Precious and her first daughter (who is Mongoloid due to the incestuous fact of her conception). As Precious surrenders to the new-found anchors of really being taught/educated, having friends, being heard and listened to and being told that she matters, she begins to grow away from her mother. Things come to a shocking head after she gives birth to her second child, also borne of incest. This time she has a healthy non-Mongoloid son. As if all this isn’t enough, we learn that her father has given her a third gift related to his repeated molestation.

Deftly directed with flair and creativity by the maverick and remarkably talented Lee Daniels, Precious is a visceral, evocative and memorable triumph. Daniels, who has shown his prowess at the directorial helm of Shadowboxer and as a producer for other gems including Monster’s Ball and The Woodsman, has a bold and daring way of seeing the world and creating characters that is truly refreshing. This time around he uses flashbacks, fantasy sequences (which depict the alternate realties that Precious creates to survive), present day action and first-person narration to bring this troubling urban tale of hope and redemption to the screen.

The creative team for Precious, wisely omitted or toned down some of the truly disturbing details of the book, in order to craft an admittedly harrowing story with heart and hope at its core. Had they not opted to do so, they may have ended up with a movie too painful to watch. Their success must not go unheralded. Praise should also be extended to Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry for being Executive Producers of this project.

Solid, often sparkling work is done by a great cast which include Paula Patton, Sherri Shepherd, Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz, along with delightful quintet of young actresses who portray Precious’ new classmates at Each One Teach One. One of them is supposed to be Jamaican, sadly, while she had the attitude down to a science, her accent was only credible once.

Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe turns in a thoroughly credible and natural performance as Precious. She must be commended and hailed for doing so well in a role that would be daunting for even seasoned actresses.

Ms. Sidibe’s triumphant debut notwithstanding, there can be no debate that as far as acting, characterization and absolute immersion the film belongs to an almost unrecognizable Mo’Nique as Precious’ disturbed and disturbing mother Mary. There is already, well-deserved buzz about her being a contender or the main contender for most of the Best Actress awards in the industry for 2009. Mo’Nique displays a depth and range that is almost indescribable. Her last scene in the movie, when (at her request) she meets with Precious and her social worker (played by Carey) is worth the price of admission.

Precious is a gritty gem. By no means an easy watch, but definitely a must-see!

A DISAPPOINTING MEETING – Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns

I’m a wavering fan and admirer of Tyler Perry. The story of his challenging journey and personal and professional struggles he had to overcome to reach where he is today, his disarming humility and his creation and enactment of the deliciously mischievous Madea resonate with a growing number of people all over the world, including me. It is also amazing that since his meteoric rise to fame and being a household name, he has been responsible for a steady stream of films telling the stories of and featuring characters of colour. I suspect that he may have already, or be about to surpass Spike Lee for the enviable distinction of single-handedly providing roles/work to the most African-American performers: an extremely significant achievement for a man who experienced abuse as a teenager, was once homeless, slept in his car and who spent his last dime to produce a play that ignited his phoenix-like rise.

Even with this as an inspiring backdrop, I was enticed and excited about Meet the Browns for a number of other reasons: the magnificent Angela Bassett was the leading lady, the fabulous Jennifer Lewis had a featured role, powerhouse gospel singer Tamela Mann was also in the cast and the icing on the cake was that her husband David Mann was given an opportunity to showcase his wild and hilarious characterization of Madea’s son-in-law Leroy Brown. Sadly, this combination of ingredients did not deliver a satisfying end product.

Written and directed by Perry, Meet the Browns is, at best, mildly entertaining. Despite an engaging storyline and plot, the film only achieves a mild simmer and not Perry’s usual rolling boil. Another surprise was that the humour (usually a strong point), all too often, felt forced and contrived. This time around the elements simply did not blend to create and present the kind of triumphant tour-de-force we’ve come to expect from this modern-day phenomenon.

The story, in brief, is: Brenda Brown, a struggling single mother of three living in Chicago (played by Bassett) is reeling from a series of bad breaks and hard knocks: she is unable to pay her irritable but kind-hearted babysitter, her son has to wear basketball shoes that are too small and she can only offer her family oatmeal for breakfast. As if this wasn’t bad enough, her light is cut off for non-payment and she loses her job.  She gets a letter telling her that her father (who she did not know) has died. The envelope also contains tickets for her to travel to Georgiato attend the funeral. Her decision to go to Georgiais what causes her to meet the Browns, her ‘country’ relatives who are strangers to her. The secondary storyline is that her teenage son Michael, while dealing with the realities of a deadbeat dad, having to loosen his basketball shoes during matches and being the man of the house, is being scouted by basketball teams and tempted by the possible rewards of drug-dealing.

Even though there are commendable, even above-average performances form more than one member of the cast, the whole production never achieves excellence. As one would expect, Bassett and Lewis lead the pack in overall portrayals, with a solid and promising performance by Lance Gross as Bassett’s son. This young man has a great deal of potential. His acting was convincing, honest and engaging. The runaway performance of the film is delivered with flair, aplomb and vivacity by Sofia Vergara as Cheryl, Brenda’s colleague and friend. Her riotous antics and sassy swagger lit up the screen.

While it was great to see Margaret Avery (Shug Avery in the Colour Purple) she had little to do, and much to my distress, Tamela Mann did not sing a note, which left her to be sweet but not memorable in the role of Cora, Madea’s daughter.

My two biggest disappointments with the film are the pairing of Angela Bassett and Rick Fox and fate of David Mann’s portrayal of Leroy Brown. Rick Fox was cast as a basketball scout/coach and Bassett’s love interest. Unfortunately, there was little or no chemistry between them, which left the development of their relationship a rather lukewarm affair. It left me yearning for and reminiscing about the incendiary, palpable chemistry between Kimberly Elise and Shemar Moore in the Perry classic Diary of a Mad Black Woman.

David Mann fell prey to the same foe that Tyler Perry faces when he portrays Madea on screen. Characters created for the stage, often do not transfer or ‘translate’ to the medium of film. Madea and Leroy Brown are wonderfully idiosyncratic and delightfully entertaining on stage, which is much more welcoming of larger-than-life, over-the top characters. While Mann’s character work in Meet the Browns was commendable and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, Leroy Brown, for the most part, came across as slapstick and out of place, as did Madea and her brother (both roles played by Perry as usual) in the high-speed car chase scene tacked on near the end of the film. I believe, and hope, that Perry has begun to realize the unfortunate weakness of Madea in film. (If you notice she is appearing less in his films). Madea and Leroy Brown should be saved for the stage where they are effervescent and effective, even legendary.

#9

after (a) major bump(s) in the road in 2011, this affirmation came to me:

i am grateful to be recovering from a particularly difficult period, grateful that the sinking feeling of despair has gone, grateful for the lessons learnt, grateful for the folks who told me not to give up, grateful for Spirit reminding me who I am and whose I am, grateful to be reclaiming my joy

YELE

Mother Earth rumbled

In response

To the words

Heaped upon you

Epithets added

As if part of your name

‘poorest nation’

‘cursed by God’

‘voodoo capital’

‘satan worshippers’

 

She churned

Remembering the forgotten

Boukman and L’Ouverture

1st independent nation in Latin America

Bondage repugnant

Irritant to your spirit

Toxin rejected by your blood

You, punished with two Duvaliers

Tonton Macoute

100 years of reparations to France

 

She coughed

Choking on injustice

Aftermath of embargos and deforestation

Gasoline neckties stuck in her craw

She heaved

Shattering limbs

Took a deep breath

Inhaling buildings

Leveling the land

Belching off the bile

 

Mother Earth shifted

When she settled

The smell of death

Hung thick everywhere

Then hope rose resolute

Memories were jogged

The indefatigable Haitian spirit

Sprang up from amidst the rubble

And danced, shouting

Yele!

 

11, 14, 17 days

Buried, yet alive

We will not go quietly into the night!

With amputated limbs

Broken hearts and homes

We will not give up!

Do you know who we are?

Egalite! 1st black republic in the world

Yele! We are Haiti!

We shall rise again!

© fabian thomas