I wrote this after watching Fast & Furious 6. I never posted it. I suppose now is a good time. RIP Paul Walker.
Fast and Furious (F&F) is the only film franchise with a majority non-White cast to have an national (and international) following. Consider that films with majority non-White casts are often marketed towards niche audiences, and many assume that these casting decisions inherently make a movie a “Black” movie, or an “Latino” movie (see the recent hoopla around Best Man Holiday as a “race-themed” movie). Although there are a few films that feature a majority non-White cast that garnered a national and international following (e.g., Rush Hour), but I believe that F&F is the only franchise (i.e., multiple films) with an ensemble cast (i.e., ≥ 5 major characters) to accomplish this.
Míchel Martinez is currently completing her Ph.D. in Political Science at USC, investigating the need for photography in social movements and the subsequent criminalization of photography. Her photography has taken her across the globe, from China to document the aftermath of the SARS outbreak, to Thailand after the tsunami. As a self-identified activist, she organizes initiatives to address local and national labor issues, increase awareness of the injustices in the prison system, and most recently was actively involved in the Occupy movement in Los Angeles. Míchel joined my class to talk about her experiences as a photographer and a scholar, and discuss the importance of imagery and photography in understanding civil rights and the individual’s place in an evolving, and increasingly interconnected society.
Lorraine Branham, Dean of Newhouse, and me.
Although a lot has been said about this episode in the 72 hours since its airing, many of the analyses and critiques that I have read are missing a few major points:
- “What have we learned from this sketch? As usual, nothing.”: For me, this throwaway line at the end of the cold open by Rev. Al Sharpton emphasizes the attitude of the Black community when it comes to representations of Black Americans (or the non-White community when it comes to the representations of non-White Americans) in media. We have short memories, and discussion of diversity in the media is nothing more than lip service. The truth is, Lorne Michaels is laughing all the way to the bank; there has been more coverage of SNL in the past 3 days than in the past 3 years. Like Miley Cyrus said, haters still watch the video.
- “Keenan won’t do it?”: Washington asks this question when faced with a rapid costume change to switch from playing Michelle Obama to Oprah. Jay Pharoah shakes his head and mutters, “No.” This line is lost, but is essential to understanding the situation of Black actors on SNL. In recent years, Keenan Thompson has refused to dress in drag, but has not provided a political rationale. Thompson received a lot of flak for mentioning that there were no funny Black women auditioning for SNL, but in my opinion, he is just as disgusted with the trend and making a statement that was completely lost on the American audience. Again, what have we learned here? Nothing.
- How’s He Doing?: This sketch, which aired later in the night, was a much more powerful representation of the potential diversity that SNL can embrace. The sketch featured Thompson as a talk show host, Pharoah as a reporter for Ebony, and an afroed* Washington as a professor of Political Science at Spelman College. The talk show where “the Black voter takes a frank honest look at President Obama, and asks, ‘How’s he doing?’” airs at 6am on Sunday mornings, addressing the fact that discussion of important Black issues has been historically ghettoized into unreasonable and unwatchable time slots. The joke was completely lost on the audience. Other jokes in the sketch with better responses addressed the differences in White and Black Americans regarding expectations of Obama, the insurance rollout, the postal system, and The Wire. I wish more people would talk about this sketch and its place within the national conversation about Black representation, especially as compared to the cold open; its unfortunate that there are no Black women in the cast to play prominent Black figures (although there are even fewer Latinos and not a single Asian in the 38 years), but this sketch highlighted how this lack of presence handicaps the social commentary of SNL. “How’s He Doing” felt like a throwback to In Living Color, the absence of which is strongly felt in an increasingly ethnically diverse America.
*I miss natural hair on television.
UPDATE: I have been alerted to Maya Rudolph’s “How’s He Doing” sketch from her guest hosting appearance on SNL in 2012. Many of the jokes are the same, and the repetitive nature of the sketch makes in less valuable as a conversation point. However, a friend wondered, “How many jokes do they have built up just waiting for a Black host?” Click here to see Maya Rudolph’s episode; “How’s He Doing” starts at 39:17. If it is any consolation, at least they moved this sketch to earlier in the show.
With so many sexy costumes available these days, I dressed up in my sexiest panda pajamas. My students loved it.
As I approached the bus stop, a man was walking past; he was in his mid 20s in a heavy canvas coat and a wool cap with ribbons twisted into his hair. It’s cold in Syracuse, so I’m wearing my heavy coat buttoned all the way to the top. He looked at me and smiled.
ME: Good morning.
He abruptly stops walking and looks at me. After an awkward moment, he smiles again…
HE: It’s getting a tad bit nipply!
ME: (shocked) Wow! That’s inappropriate.
Jeff Glendenning joins my COM107 (Communications and Society) at S.I. Newhouse School for Public Communications at Syracuse University to talk about his experiences in Visual Journalism.
Jeff Glendenning has worked as a creative director and designer in publishing, branding and interactive design. The first portion of his career focused on editorial design where he art directed and designed covers and special issues at The New York Times Magazine. From there Jeff worked in branding and interactive design at the advertising agency Mother New York, Condé Nast, and Teachers College Columbia University, among others. Clients and projects have included Target, Volkswagen and IBM Smarter Planet.
Jeff’s work has been recognized by the Art Directors Club, AIGA, Society of Publication Designers and the Type Directors Club. Prior to returning to Syracuse University, Jeff taught editorial and interactive design at the School of Visual Arts and Portland State University.