We were delinquent in putting up the recap for last week’s Scandal recap. Or, um…I guess I should say I was delinquent in doing so. )That’s my bust, homie.)
So here are some random observations from last week’s episode — just in time for this week’s episode!
Last week’s big reveal was that Mama Pope was the one who sent Adnan to hit Harrison up for info1 and strongarm Cyrus. I’d almost forgotten about her! She’s a terrorist , but I don’t think we’ve ever been told about her motivations. Whatever she’s cooking up, it’s going to be more complicated than it needs to be. I say that both because this is Scandal, but also because when they cut to her, she was bathed in a green light a Batman villain. When this storyline wraps up, we’re definitely going to be like “wouldn’t it have been easier to shoot her?”
When I say more complicated than it needs to be, I mean moments like Abby “kidnapping” Will Bailey before Superman’s Voice could assassinate him on Cyrus’ orders.
“I should have said last night…I love you,” Rosen muttered
“You better,” Abby said. “I just saved your life.”
She couldn’t have rolled up to him and stage-whispered, “Bae— it’s a trap! Get in the car!” Was all that really necessary?I’ve been trying to come up with a list of things that have to happen in every episode of Scandal. One of them was an Olitz fight that veers violently from declarations that they’re tedious, on-again, off-again affair is over…to a “romantic” monologue by Fitz that he needs Liv. She gives a token protest, then he walks over to her and she’s all No! No! Don’t you do that! Not this time!In this episode, the writers were gracious enough to get this out of the way in the first scene.
So Mellie kissed ol’ boy, finally. They were in the room where the pictures of the First Ladies hung, and you were snarking about the weird camera work in that scene, and those bananas jump cuts to the portraits of Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie Kennedy…who seemed to be side-eyeing Mellie’s adultery!But I wonder if those weren’t side-eyes of approval. For your consideration: FDR almost divorced Eleanor to be with his mistress, but he knew that a divorce would hurt his political career. John F. Kennedy banged everything that moved, if the stories are to be believed. Maybe those vaguely sentient portraits were on some Get it! in solidarity with one of their sorority finally lending herself a side-piece. Just a thought.
And speaking of Mellie, last week you tweeted this:
It would seem that Mellie has quietly become the closest thing we have to a protag on this show. #Scandal
I think this is right, but it also gets to something that’s been sort of gnawing at me for a bit. So much of this show’s popularity among black women — who, let’s face it, are the engine of its success — is because it’s ostensibly centered on this complicated, stunning black woman at its center (to say nothing of the savvy black woman who’s helming the ship). So isn’t it sort of odd that the show’s secret hero, its most fleshed-out and sympathetic character, is the white woman who’s that aforementioned black woman’s romantic rival? They’ve spent this season fleshing out Mellie while both Liv and Fitz have been reduced to sulking and shouting, with few gradations in-between.
And now that I have more than 140 characters to flesh that sentiment out, I think that either by way of Kerry’s acting choices or due to the writers’ choices in characterizing Liv, this show as gotten away from its lead… and been delivered to Mellie (and by extension, Bellamy Young) — who was only supposed to be a recurring guest star or something at first, right?!
Now we’re rooting for her adultery and her White House jump-off.
But since we’re on that…
Andrew is as disconcerting a choice of partner as Fitz if, in the wake of Mellie telling him the whole story of her rape at the hands of her father-in-law, he’d come at her on some, “I missed you,” trying to get some kind of extramarital party started with her. Dude is tryna kiss the same mouth he was fishing an overdose of pills out of weeks earlier. How about if he’s really feeling her, he makes sure he’s whole before he starts horning in on her?
That leads us back to the kiss thing with the First Ladies. If those were side-eyes of approval, I’m as on board as Eleanor an’ ‘em about Mellie and Andrew. Enough time has passed for Mellie to have rebuilt or steeled or healed herself following the assault. And she’s finally ready to give up on the possibility that Fitz still has it in him to be a decent husband (but probably not ready to give up the proximity to power her position as his wife affords her). So mack on, Mellie. Get yours.
I can’t call it with Harrison, Adnan, or Khandi Alexander.
But I’ve long-observed that action-suspense dramas on ABC follow a pattern of duplicitous parents (especially mothers). Lots of espionage and double-agency. In contemporary series, this was most notable in the once-great Alias. It also happened in Revenge (which peaked in the first half of its first season). We rallied for Liv to have a personal life backstory, but what we got was wacky black ops shenanigans from her murderous, not-so-fast-they’re-just-protecting-Liv-or-someone! parents. If this were the first time this network had gone to that well, I might be interested in it. But what I really would’ve preferred were just some scenes with normal people Liv once knew before her life got so insane. One of the great things about Alias, early on, was that its protagonist, Sydney Bristow, had a couple of friends who provided her an outlet of normalcy, people with whom she didn’t have to stage-whisper about assassinations and natural security. Liv needs a Will and Francie.
The closest things she has are Jake and Huck. That doesn’t work because they’re all under the thumb of the same secret top security evil government agency. Or whatever.
I have to talk about Huck’s weird victim-blaming/blame-shifting/coffee-bringing thing last week, in which he refers to himself as Liv’s pet monster. She’s freezing him out because he tortured Quinn (and speaking of things that could’ve been handled easier: what was that even about? We still haven’t figured out why he felt it necessary to pull her tooth and lick her when she was fine with cooperating, right?). He can’t blame Liv for his psychotic break. All she did was try to restore some humanity to his depraved life to which he’d been reduced. He’s got to own his decisions in this, because he’s steady making them. And they’re all bad. He ain’t so far gone he don’t know how to come home (with coffee), so he needs to come with some better than, “This is what you made me,” if he wants back into the inner circle of the firm.
Sally’s subplot continues to be a snoozer. I want her to confess to the murder tonight so they can write her off or something.
Finally, I loved that Jake’s inside man in the Secret Service gave him that tape where Liv confesses that she “doesn’t know” if she has feelings for him. She does. Because when Jake disagrees with her, he doesn’t feel the need to shout her down. And sometimes, when he disrobes, it’s just to shower, not to force her into some tryst over her cries of “No! Stop! Not this time!”
We gotta go get ready for tonight’s antics! Thanks to everyone for rockin’ with us, late-pass and all.
I wrote down this speech that I had no time to practice so this will be the practicing session. Thank you Alfre, for such an amazing, amazing introduction and celebration of my work. And thank you very much for inviting me to be a part of such an extraordinary community. I am surrounded by people who have inspired me, women in particular whose presence on screen made me feel a little more seen and heard and understood. That it is ESSENCE that holds this event celebrating our professional gains of the year is significant, a beauty magazine that recognizes the beauty that we not just possess but also produce.
I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty, black beauty, dark beauty. I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you: “Dear Lupita,” it reads, “I think you’re really lucky to be this black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”
My heart bled a little when I read those words, I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself and that it would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women of The Color Purple were to me.
I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I was the day before. I tried to negotiate with God, I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted, I would listen to my mother’s every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because He never listened.
And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no conservation, she’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then … Alek Wek. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me, as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me, when I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty. But around me, the preference for my skin prevailed, to the courters that I thought mattered I was still unbeautiful. And my mother again would say to me you can’t eat beauty, it doesn’t feed you and these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.
And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away.
And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.
A few weeks ago, I burned through the whole first season of House of Cards as well as a few eps of the latest one. The entire time, I couldn’t help but be reminded of our friends in Scandal-land. Both set in a Washington full of murderous elected officials. Their respective main characters are cynical narcissists. And both Frank and Olivia are orbited by people who are almost implausibly, contemptibly stupid. (I’m talking about Cards’ Lucas and Scandal’s Quinn here. Ugh.) Scandal, though, manages to be as fun as House of Cards while being infinitely less self-important.
When we first started recapping this show during Season 2, I’d never seen an episode. But now, I feel like I know all of its tricks. Liv has to vet Andrew Nichols, Fitz’s former lieutenant governor in California and his pick to replace Sally as veep. As soon as Nichols tells Liv that the reason he never married was because he lost the one great love in his life, I muttered to my friends at my crib that that great lost love was Mellie. Scandal isn’t the kind of show that busies itself with writing in random characters details, so if the writers were sharing this tidbit about ol’ boy, it was because the One Who Got Away was someone we already knew. And since Scandal will always err on the side of DAAAAAAAAAMN!, it had to be Mellie.
Can we talk about Mellie for a hot second? She’s been my favorite character since I started watching; she’s the show’s true tragic figure. She loved (loves?) and believed in Fitz, and she’s endured horrible traumas and kept them quiet in order to make his political career possible. And what does she get for all that? Fitz cheating on her and throwing it in her face, even as Mellie herself tries to cover up the affair that (again) threatens to bring down his presidency that she effectively made possible. It’s remarkable to me that so many people hate Mellie on a show in which she’s surrounded by a literal murderers’ row of venality. (It would be easier at this point to count the people on Scandal who haven’t caught a body at this point.) So yeah. That scene with Mellie and Liv in the restaurant during which Mellie hurled all kinds of darts at an increasingly whiny, annoying Liv, was gold. Mellie is taking it into her own hands to quiet the resurfacing chatter about Liv and Fitz’s affair, and so she decides that the best way to do that is by presenting a public image of a Mellie/Liv friendship. But the whole scene is Mellie gleefully dagger-twisting.
“I’m making a respectable woman out of you, Olivia,” she says to Liv. “My husband could never sleep with you if we’re friends.”
This shit right here is why I’m Team Mellie.
Mellie then hands Liv a list of dudes she’s allowed to date to help throw the public off Olitz’s scent. Liv’s only retort is #lipquiver, because it’s becoming increasingly obvious than Liv is deeply ungully. (I sorta wonder if Liv could retort, though. She doesn’t have any moral high ground in their little dyad; wouldn’t anything Liv say back just underline the callousness of what she and Fitz are doing to Mellie?)
The disaster of Olitz is underscored again when Papa Pope — chilling on a random bench because that’s what gangsters do — hips Olivia to the fact that he’s going to use her to bring down Fitz’s presidency.
At this point, I half-expect fire and operatic music to play behind The Brother From Another Planet whenever he launches into one of his monologues, a la Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate. To say Joe Morton chews scenery suggests something more subtle than what Joe Morton actually does in these scenes. That motherfucker is Godzilla, stomping on everything and then roaring bellicosely.
James is surreptitiously feeding info about the shadiness of Sallie’s husband’s death to a reporter — and David Cohen — in order to get back at Cyrus, which reminds us that Liv and Fitz might not have the most fucked-up relationship on this show.
And there’s the Quinn storyline, which I could care less about. She’s kidnapping children now, which makes her pointless AND evil, while Harrison is now screwing some woman who is his supposed enemy. It’s taken him 2.5 seasons to get even this sliver of character shading or a B-plot, so you take what you can get, I guess.
Notes on a Scandal
At first I couldn’t place Nazanin Boniandi, the (fine-ass) actress who played Adnan Salif, but IMDB shows us that she most recently played the headscarf-wearing CIA analyst Fara Sherazi on Homeland. (Speaking of ridiculous, self-important shows…)
I guess Quinn’s mouth is all better now after Huck tortured her by yanking her teeth out? This explains why this show’s insane plot twists continue to have diminishing returns: they’re totally forgotten by the next episode, and sometimes by the next scene.
I chuckled at Abby’s “we’re-the-normal-ones-here!” rant to Harrison:“If you need to borrow my gun, all you have to do is ask.”
It’s so hard being the rich, handsome president! Waaaah. Yo, Seriously: fuck Fitz.
Liv definitely has no moral high ground here — although I saw a lot of viewers rallying behind her last night, as the Mellie-got-a-side-piece-too! reveal popped off. Olitz fans were all too willing to label Mellie a hypocrite for calling Liv so many homewreckers and whores over the years. But there are no neat corollaries in this love triangle, are there? Do we know yet if Mellie and Andrew’s affair was pre- or post-Mellie’s marriage? And if it’s rekindled now (and it totally will be), can anyone blame Mellie for gettin’ it in with fine-ass Jon Tenney? No. No, they cannot. She has suffered far greater indignities than Liv has in service to an ungrateful, unfaithful spouse who — it can’t be said enough — she loves.
We know without a doubt now that Mellie formerly and currently loves Fitz and isn’t just keeping up appearances by remaining married to him. This is a sticking point for me because this show’s initial conceit was to sell us on the idea that Mellie was a heartless political climber using Fitz for his power. Now that we know how desperately she desires him and how many attempts she’s made to woo him back — not in power plays, but in hopes of reprising a once-happy marriage — it makes Olitz even grosser and Liv, by extension, more difficult to root for.
Enough about Mellie. I actually don’t have any favorites on this show right now — not a single one — so while I’m glad to see Mellie finally be desired by someone who (as far as we know) isn’t out to violate or manipulate her, we have a ton of other stuff to discuss after this long hiatus, right?
Before we go further, I have to say that I’m not a House of Cards viewer, but it was fascinating to see how much Twitter commentary crossover there was between the two series last night. A lot of “Frank Underwood wouldn’t stand for this!” whenever Fitz was onscreen. Is the handling of politics and, well, scandal, on House of Cards heightening folks’ notice of Scandal’s glaring flaws? (I certainly wouldn’t doubt it.)
In other news, Harrison finally gets a storyline (complete with shirtless lovin’!). I’d always figured Adnan was a dude. (I know. I don’t know what show I thought I was watching.) Depending on what their backstory is, it’s starting to make sense that he hasn’t been in a serious relationship since the show’s inception. This woman seems to have serious dirt on him and access to his heartstrings. No moving on for him. (Although I still think he and Abby are endgame.)
So James is finally, finally sick of Cyrus’ shit and ready to pack his raggedy duffel bag, the daughter Cyrus boasted about “buying” him, and what’s left of his scruples and go. Let’s see how long that lasts.
The last thing I want to discuss tonight is the scene between Eli/Rowan Pope and Liv. Is it me or did he totally slut-shame her? He chastises her for letting Fitz “defile” her and basically says that his losing his position with B613 and her mother’s escape from custody are all owing to the fact that she can’t stop herself from sleeping with him. It’s pretty despicable — especially since she only sought him out to extend empathy for his losing his job to Jake.
I have personal reasons for why I have such low tolerance for the belligerent, disarming way Papa Pope addresses Liv on a regular basis, so maybe I’m reading too much into that. (I actually had a couple people defend his behavior in that scene to me last night, so who knows?) Either way, Joe Morton was a casting coup for this series. Sometimes, you need your scenery masticated — and who better than this dude? Now we know how Liv got her growly, loud lean-forward schtick.
Notes on a Scandal
I wonder how long Jake is gonna last as head of B613. His relationship with Liv is getting more interesting to me, since he knows as much (if not more) about her, her mother, Fitz and their sordid history than anyone else. Liv is ruined for “normal relationships,” but she could probably work with Jake, if she were so inclined.
There was minimal Huck in this episode but I wasn’t mad at it. Huck seems to only be used now when he’s torturing someone — and that’s exhausting.
Sally’s subplot is really boring to me, as is her imminent ouster as VP. But if readers want to weigh in on that or anything else here, have at it!
Miguel’s new song “SimpleThings”, from the soundtrack of Lena Dunham’s Living Single-lite show “Girls”, is EVERYTHING.
“I don’t need a model, no I don’t need a debutante…just be a tough act to follow, you know, a free spirit, with a wild heart”
G.D. goes in on me about my love of what he believes to be mediocre R&B singers – Lloyd, Miguel, Trey Songz, Bobby Valentino. al., but I think they provide a necessary service in providing work that is sentimental and swoonworthy. It used to be that rough-edged rappers would hop on a track with a R&B dude to do a song ‘for the ladies’, but now it seems that Drake and Future are doing better by doing their crooning in-house. Still, SimpleThings are great because they invoke that feeling of being so into someone that even the smallest things about them make your heart soar. *dreamy sigh*
Also, even though their songs can sometimes border on diabeetus-inducing, most of these R&B cats can *actually* sing. Yeah, Lloyd might have an S-curl and Miguel’s bouffant is better than Janelle Monae’s, but vocally they bring something unique to music and I appreciate their contributions. My friends want explanations for my deep and abiding love for saccharine R&B but I have none. Fight me.
Also… Philanthropy, sad to say, is a luxury, and it’s one that we largely can’t afford. Think about it this way; if there are reports of people not saving adequately for retirement, of not being able to help fund their OWN children’s college education, and not being able to pass down wealth to their own children…WHERE is the money for endowments to institutions going to come from?
I’d only push back a little and say that folks could probably part with, say, whatever their Netflix costs each month and send it back to their alma maters. But that, again, is a case that their institutions have to make and a process they have to make easy.
But it’s still an important point. Jason Whitlock’s premise is that black folks don’t give back because they’ve abandoned their institutions in the mad dash toward the white man’s colder ice.
Do you think Notre Dame’s base — well-to-do white Catholics — would flee their prized institution and let the football program rot from neglect, indifference and a desire to make non-white Catholics love them?
That is what is happening to HBCUs and their athletic programs across the country. In our desire to integrate, in our desire to create the ideal mainstream/white experience, we have abandoned black institutions.
If your bullshit detectors are wailing, they should be. Black folks and black institutions have very different histories in this country — histories that didn’t allow for the deep pockets that keeps schools like Notre Dame on such firm financial standing.
Notre Dame is an elite private Catholic institution. It was started by and is still partially supported by the Holy Cross brotherhood of the Catholic Church. It has an endowment of over six BILLION dollars. It draws upon not only the private wealth of its esteemed alumni but also the support of the Catholic Church. A 2000 year old institution that is its own sovereign nation and is present in almost every country across the globe. [Emphasis mine.] And I would be remiss if I did not remind folks that some proportion of the wealth of the Church comes from the benefits of black and indigenous slavery and the wealth benefits that white Catholics have gained over the years in profiting off of an economic system built upon the exploitation of black labor and the expropriation of black wealth.
Grambling State University is a public HBCU founded in 1901 in Louisiana for the purpose of educating black residents of northern Louisiana. The land on which the school was founded was donated by a local white lumber king. It has an endowment of nearly five MILLION dollars to serve approximately 5,000 students. Grambling has always depended upon the support of the state and Louisiana’s governor, Bobby Jindal, has supervised a constant campaign of disinvestment, most recently cutting over $50 MILLION dollars of support. Grambling’s decline is not due to the depraved indifference of a blind population obsessed with white acceptance, but is the inevitable result when states and the federal government disinvest from their own institutions. It should go without saying that the donated income of a few successful alumni will not be able to fill the gap made not only by more consistent external funding but centuries of accumulated wealth that black Americans have never had access to.
Amerigo Gazaway’s gimmick, and it’s a brilliant one, is crafting collabos between musicians that never actually happened. He’s the dude behind the excellent Tribe Called Quest/Pharcyde mashup, Bizarre Tribe To the Pharcydeand the dope De La Soul and Fela Kuti blend, Fela Soul. His latest is Yasiin Gaye, a mix that blends classic soul with the vocals of the artist formerly known as Mos Def. Some of the cuts – especially the “Ms. Fat Booty” re-imagining — sound like natural fits. I also love the treatment of “Respiration,” one of my favorite Black Star tracks, even though its sans vocals from Mos, Talib or Com.
A photo from Fort Greene’s Renaissance: Spike Lee, Vernon Reed, Reginald Hudlin, and Lorna Simpson were all part of the creative class that almost certainly helped gentrify Fort Greene.
Last night at Pratt Institute, some poor dude asked Spike Lee if he might see “the other side” — that is, the good side — of Brooklyn’s gentrification.
While I don’t know for sure that Spike’s sleepy eyes got big and buggy, I like to imagine that that’s what happened as this went down.
“Lemme just kill you right now,” Spike said. And thus commenced an epic ethering.
Here’s the thing: I grew up here in Fort Greene. I grew up here in New York. It’s changed. And why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the south Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better? The garbage wasn’t picked up every motherfuckin’ day when I was living in 165 Washington Park. P.S. 20 was not good. P.S. 11. Rothschild 294. The police weren’t around. When you see white mothers pushing their babies in strollers, three o’clock in the morning on 125th Street, that must tell you something.
[Audience member: And I don’t dispute that … ]
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. And even more. Let me kill you some more.
[Audience member: Can I talk about something?]
Then comes the motherfuckin’ Christopher Columbus Syndrome. You can’t discover this! We been here. You just can’t come and bogart. There were brothers playing motherfuckin’ African drums in Mount Morris Park for 40 years and now they can’t do it anymore because the new inhabitants said the drums are loud. My father’s a great jazz musician. He bought a house in nineteen-motherfuckin’-sixty-eight, and the motherfuckin’ people moved in last year and called the cops on my father. He’s not — he doesn’t even play electric bass! It’s acoustic! We bought the motherfuckin’ house in nineteen-sixty-motherfuckin’-eight and now you call the cops? In 2013? Get the fuck outta here!
Nah. You can’t do that. You can’t just come in the neighborhood and start bogarting and say, like you’re motherfuckin’ Columbus and kill off the Native Americans. Or what they do in Brazil, what they did to the indigenous people. You have to come with respect. There’s a code. There’s people.
You can’t just — here’s another thing: When Michael Jackson died they wanted to have a party for him in motherfuckin’ Fort Greene Park and all of a sudden the white people in Fort Greene said, “Wait a minute! We can’t have black people having a party for Michael Jackson to celebrate his life. Who’s coming to the neighborhood? They’re gonna leave lots of garbage.” Garbage? Have you seen Fort Greene Park in the morning? It’s like the motherfuckin’ Westminster Dog Show. There’s 20,000 dogs running around. Whoa. So we had to move it to Prospect Park!
I mean, they just move in the neighborhood. You just can’t come in the neighborhood. I’m for democracy and letting everybody live but you gotta have some respect. You can’t just come in when people have a culture that’s been laid down for generations and you come in and now shit gotta change because you’re here? Get the fuck outta here. Can’t do that!
And then! [to audience member] Whoa whoa whoa. And then! So you’re talking about the people’s property change? But what about the people who are renting? They can’t afford it anymore! You can’t afford it. People want live in Fort Greene. People wanna live in Clinton Hill. The Lower East Side, they move to Williamsburg, they can’t even afford fuckin’, motherfuckin’ Williamsburg now because of motherfuckin’ hipsters. What do they call Bushwick now? What’s the word?
[Audience: East Williamsburg]
That’s another thing: Motherfuckin’… These real estate motherfuckers are changing names! Stuyvestant Heights? 110th to 125th, there’s another name for Harlem. What is it? What? What is it? No, no, not Morningside Heights. There’s a new one. [Audience: SpaHa] What the fuck is that? How you changin’ names?
You can (and should) listen to their whole exchange here:
One irony here is that a lot of folks might understandably lay the gentrification of Fort Greene at Spike Lee’s feet.
Nelson George’s documentary Brooklyn Boheme sketched out the crazy mini-black/boriqua boho Renaissance in Fort Greene in the late ’80s/mid-’90s. The film is a love letter to that era, as George was very much a part of that scene.
Wesley Snipes was just a young buck who threw wild, sweaty-ass parties in his brownstone in the summertime. The glorious Rosie Perez, who still lives near the park, remembered how she used to roll up to Snipes’s parties, but would leave because of to all the holleration and ribaldry.
Pre-SNL Chris Rock was a struggling comedian renting out another brownstone on Carlton or Clermont for $300 a month just around the corner, and recalled when some burglars tried to break down his door with a sledgehammer.
The photographer Lorna Simpson was there just getting started out, as was the writer/theater director Carl Hancock Rux.
Everyone tried to get at this baddie named Halle Berry, who moved to the neighborhood for a summer for a bit part in one of Spike’s movies.
Vernon Reid, who went to Brooklyn Tech, stayed in the neighborhood after graduating high school and started his rock music career in earnest.
Guru and Premier were just young dudes who were trying to get put on, and they rented a room upstairs from a young Branford Marsalis, who had just moved up North from Louisiana. (Apparently, Jazzmatazz came out of this proximity.)
A little bit later, Erica Wright — the Queen Badu! — would move there to perform poetry at Brooklyn Moon on Fulton, along with locals who went by Mos Def and Talib Kweli. (Badu still owned a studio apartment there as of a few years ago.) Saul Williams moved to the city after he graduated from Morehouse and fell in with that set.
For a long time, Spike was at the center of this scene; it’s no accident that Snipes, Perez and a bunch of other people from the neighborhood all appeared in Spike’s early films.1
One theory of gentrification is that artists and creatives are a key part of its early stages, because they make an area more desirable for young people, and they have a lot of free time and the inclination to make old homes and neighborhoods pretty. Once those neighborhoods become cool, trendy places to live, the money follows. It’s not hard to see Spike as being implicated in that, even indirectly.
In Boheme, Spike said that his wife tired of having random neighborhood folks knocking on the door of their brownstone right off Fort Greene Park at all hours of the night. According to Lee, she told them that he had to choose between staying in the beloved neighborhood where he grew up and everyone knew him or her and their daughter, Satchel. He obviously chose his family, and so they moved and sold their brownstone for a million dollars — a then-unheard of sum for a neighborhood that was still run through with crackheads and crime. Real estate agents quickly noticed that something was afoot in Fort Greene when they could fetch a million dollars for homes in a neighborhood still rife with crackheads and crime. Thus, George posits, Spike’s sale of his brownstone was the beginning of the Park Slope-ification of Fort Greene.
1. At the screening for the documentary that I went to, Nelson George told a story in which Branford Marsalis recalls walking down Washington Avenue with his five-year-old son when a crackhead approached him. “I’ll suck your dick for five dollars!” the crackhead said. Marsalis then called up Spike sorrowfully, saying that he knew it was time for him to leave the neighborhood. That moment — or the “suck your dick” line, at least — ended up in Jungle Fever.↩