Legendary talent Ben Vereen is not a happy man. The state of dissatisfaction was apparent during his presentation at Harlem’s City College of New York Aaron Davis Hall. Before an enthusiastic crowd he delivered a lecture on race, politics and the status of African Americans in Hollywood. It is this latter issue, which revealed his frustrations at reality television, which he declares as the new blackface minstrelsy.
“Reality TV is the new blackface and making us look like buffoons,” he says. “Ever since [President Barack] Obama was elected we’ve been getting fewer and fewer roles. They will continue to do that if we don’t say anything. We do not stand behind our artists who are there for us to express our truths.”
Whenever there is any discussion on the topic of people of color in Hollywood the names Tyler Perry and Spike Lee are bound to emerge. Despite their rivalry, Vereen believes that the two must make amends in order to create richer opportunities in Hollywood for those of color. “I want to say Spike take the brother [Perry] aside. Don’t go to the press. Support the brother and encourage him to do more artistic work in our vein that we need done.”
If more color is what Vereen is seeking perhaps he would have appreciated Harlem’s newest art salon, Knox Gallery, for their “Women of Colours” exhibition. The installation, curated by Omo Misha, featured the intriguing works of Grace Williams, Ruth L. Leal, and six other female artists exploring themes of history, culture and self-image. During the exhibition’s closing reception, the gallery’s creative director, Al Johnson explained his vision for Knox. “What we are trying to do is introduce the Harlem community to the best of our culture,” he states. “We want to cater to our valued collectors and make them feel comfortable to experience art as a life force without interference.” Johnson also revealed that he received major political endorsement for his painting of groundbreaking politician, Shirley Chisholm to become the official U.S. postage stamp in honor of her, set to debut by 2013.
Chisholm wasn’t just a political force. She was also a style icon known for big hair and bold graphic prints. It was style that was on the minds of Harlemites during the latest Harlem’s Fashion Row “Conversations” event. At the Schombugh Center for Research in Black Culture, Brandice Henderson, founder and CEO of Harlem’s Fashion Row, engaged in a discussion with Steven Kolb, CEO of Council of Fashion Designers of America. Throughout the talk there was a missed opportunity to challenge Kolb regarding the lack of diversity in the CFDA membership and overall fashion community. When he did finally address the issue he stated, “We are 400 designers and a pretty white organization. It’s obvious but not intentional. Anybody can become part of the CFDA. It’s having perseverance and believing in yourself and presenting yourself. That’s the success of any designer no matter what or whom.”
While Kolb’s statement possesses truth, the limited representation of Harlemites and people of color in fashion and various other industries deserves a more thorough analysis. If Vereen were in attendance he might have left with an even deeper frown on his face.
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This article is courtesy of our partner The Harlem Arts Alliance
The Harlem Arts Alliance is a not for profit arts service organization celebrating 10 years of service to a prestigious list of members such as the Apollo Theater, the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, Columbia University, Harlem Stage (Aaron Davis Hall) and over 850 more cultural/arts institutions and individuals. The weekly column, Harlem Arts Alliance Presents: On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture and entertainment in Harlem and the greater NYC area.
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