Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story (PBS)

“I would have to find out, what was the word that the religion of Jesus says to the man with his back against the wall?” – Howard Thurman

The one-hour documentary Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story details the life of the man who became the spiritual backbone of the American Civil Rights Movement.

I watched it because I honestly hadn’t heard of him until a few weeks ago. My parents did a most excellent job of teaching me black history when I was growing up. This giant of a man, we missed. (Or maybe, I missed!)

Howard Thurman (1899-1981) was born in West Palm Beach, Florida. As a child, he connected with God through quiet times in nature. A tree, he said, was his best friend. He also developed his Christian faith through his family, especially his grandmother, who had been a slave.

Thurman graduated from high school at a time when there were only three high schools for African-Americans in the state of Florida. He went on to graduate from Morehouse College (he was classmates with Martin Luther King Sr.), and was ordained a Baptist minister while he was still in theological school. Although Baptist, Thurman’s approach to Christianity was not limited to one denomination.

In 1944, Thurman co-founded the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. One of the first interracial churches in the country, this was incredibly radical at the time. Even more radical, worship wasn’t only sermon and song. It also included contemporary dance and meditation outdoors.

His non-traditional approach to Christianity was further cultivated by his studies with Quaker mystic and philosopher, Rufus Jones, as well as the time he spent with Mahatma Ghandi in India. Thurman saw the caste system and British minority rule over millions of people up close. The similar struggle of Indians and African-Americans only strengthened Thurman’s belief that non-violent resistance was the right approach to end their collective disenfranchisement.

Thurman was Dean of Chapel at both Howard University and Boston University. He was highly influential over civic and spiritual leaders in the mid-20th century. He wrote twenty books, the most well-known being Jesus and the Disinherited (1949.) In the book, Thurman interprets the teachings of Jesus through the experience of poor and oppressed people and offers nonviolent responses to the oppression. Jesus and the Disinherited was the book Martin Luther King Jr. was reading during the Montgomery Bus boycott. “What does Jesus have to say to the man whose back is against the wall?” That book became the “bible” of the Civil Rights Movement.

This documentary is fascinating. It left me wanting to learn more about Howard Thurman. Him being called a “mystic” is most interesting.
He practiced what is now called a “contemplative spirituality.” Thurman simply believed in a direct experience or connection to God. An intermediary, like a minister, isn’t necessary. People can feel, talk to, love, experience, or worship God in a variety of ways. Thurman was not interested in saving souls. He focused on people moving through life as fully realized human beings.

Thurman’s reach was long and wide. We all benefited from his life and teachings. Watch the one-hour documentary here on MPT.tv. Also, Journey Films, the company behind the documentary, has more information on screenings and events.

Backs Against the Wall gets ten out of ten Mocha Angels.

Oprah quotes Howard Thurman at 24:31.

Up Next: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo (Netflix)

Oscars 2019: In a Night of Firsts, the Ghost of Miss Daisy Rides Again

Academy Award winner for Best Picture and Best Actress (1989) “Driving Miss Daisy
starring the late Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman.

First, I was 20 for 24 in my Oscar predictions. That’s 84% correct! Go me!

Second, the awards were a wonderful night for diversity. African-Americans, Asians, Latinos, and Caucasians from all parts of the world were represented. It’s hard to overstate the importance of last night. But…I’ll get to that later.

It was a night of firsts.

Spike Lee finally won an Oscar!!

An elated Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and Brie Larson. He won for Best Adapted Screenplay for “Blackkklansman.” Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Ruth Carter won for Best Costume Design for “Black Panther.” YES!!!! Those were the most original costumes ever seen on film. Carter has been around a long time. She designed costumes for “Malcolm X,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Amistad,” “What’s Love Got to do With It,” the pilot episode of Seinfeld, and much more in her 30 year career.

Ruth E. Carter
Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

Hannah Beachler, along with Jay Hart, won for Best Production Design for “Black Panther.” Her credits include Beyonce’s Lemonade, “Creed”, and 2017 Best Picture winner “Moonlight.”

 Jay Hart and Hannah Beachler, winners of Best Production Design for “Black Panther.”
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Both women are the first Black women to win in their categories. They are also only two of three Black women to win in a non-acting category. In 1984, Irene Cara won for Best Original Song “Flashdance….What a Feeling,” which she also co-wrote.

Irene Cara at the 1984 Oscars.
Courtesy of the Academy of
 Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) /YouTube

Peter Ramsey, the first Black director nominated for an animated feature, won for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse.” (YES!!!)

Courtesy ABC/YouTube

Becky Neiman-Cobb and Domee-Shi won for the Pixar animated short film “Bao.”


Becky Neiman-Cobb and Domee Shi, winners of Best Animated Short Film for Bao.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Rami Malek, a first generation Egyptian-American, won Best Actor for “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Rami Malek
Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock

Mahershala Ali won his second Best Supporting Actor award for “Green Book.” (I’ll get to that movie in a minute.)

Mahershala Ali
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

And Regina King, who I’ve followed since she was on 227, won Best Supporting Actress for “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

Regina King
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The host-less show was moving along. The energy in the room was electric. The audience was still in shock over Olivia Colman winning Best Actress out of nowhere. (What does Glenn Close have to do to win an Oscar??) Best Picture was anyone’s game. Could “Black Panther” actually win Best Picture??

And then Julia Roberts said, “The Oscar goes to….”Green Book.” The energy went flat. I prayed to the Gods that she had opened the wrong envelope a la Warren Beatty. No officials came from backstage to give Julia the correct envelope. That’s because the ghost of Miss Daisy snatched Best Picture out of the hands of more worthy contenders.

(I predicted this win. I wrote if “Roma” won Best Foreign Language film, “Green Book” would win Best Picture. “Roma” was not going to win in both categories. That is exactly what happened.)

The ghost of Miss Daisy asked Hoke drive her up to that microphone and said, “F@#! those self-sufficient Wakandans. “Black Panther” is a fantasy. Ya’ll need us to show you all how to behave. Best Picture goes to my grandbaby “Green Book!” Hoke, step on it before they catch us!”

Black people do not need to be shown by white people how to experience our blackness in this here United States. Now THAT’s a fantasy. And that is the ridiculousness “Green Book” presents.

Nor do we need to be the Magical Negro who show white people the way back to themselves. I’m talking to you “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Green Mile,” “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” “Field of Dreams,” and a hundred other movies. That antiquated attitude is, and felt like, a dinosaur after a beautiful awards ceremony of inclusiveness. 

Also, Donald Shirley deserved a movie about HIM. About HIS life. Not the guy who drove him around. To make a movie about THAT guy is a travesty.

And Mahershala Ali deserves better too. (And so does Morgan Freeman.) I’m thrilled he won Best Supporting Actor. He deserves more complex, meaty roles like the character of Wayne Hays in HBO’s True Detective, which he will indeed win an Emmy for later this year.

#OscarsSoWhite was not this ceremony. Thank God. But it was a two steps forward, one step back moment. Congratulations to all the winners…except one.

This is America.
Reuters

Up next: the documentary Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story

This is Us (NBC): Strong Black Woman Syndrome

This Is Us: Season 3, Episode 13: “Our Little Island Girl”

After 49 episodes and 3 ½ seasons of This is Us, Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) gets a long overdue backstory (and the entire hour of the show). Beth’s story is told, in classic This is Us fashion, via flashback and present day. In the flashback scenes, we learn that Beth’s mother Carol (the one and only Phylicia Rashad) literally snatches teenage Beth’s dream of being a professional ballerina right out of her hands. Carol forces her to take a traditional, corporate route so that Beth can live a “safe” life.

Beth Pearson (Susan Kalechi Watson) Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Via flashback, we see that Child Beth (Akira Akbar), “the child who could dance before she could walk,” dreams only of dance. Beth applies to a prestigious ballet school behind her parents’ back. She gets accepted much to their surprise. Her Jamaican father, Abe (Carl Lumbly), is 100% behind “our little island girl’s” dreams and is willing to work overtime to pay for her training. Mom is not having it. Dance is not practical. Carol is a pragmatic woman and does not believe Beth can ever be a principal ballerina. Abe is convinced, so Carol goes along with what he wants.

Vincent Kelly (Goran Visnjic) and Young Beth (Akira Akbar)
Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Fast forward to teenage Beth (Rachel Hilson). Her dance teacher Vincent Kelly (Goran Visnjic) tells her she no longer has a dancer’s body and that she must work ten times harder. Then Mr. Kelly brings in a new dancer. She is also black and built like a teenage brickhouse. (This girl did not have a ballerina body. I think Mr. Kelly just gave up on Beth.)

Teen Beth (Rachel Hilson) Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Concurrently, Beth is told her father is dying of lung cancer. Beth blames herself for her father’s illness because he worked so hard to pay for her dance training. He dies while she is competition for the lead in Swan Lake. After Abe’s death, Beth discovers she did not get the lead. That’s when Carol swoops in and says, “You are never going to be a professional dancer. I’m not going to pay for dance academy anymore. By the way, here’s a list of colleges. Pick one.”

Back in the present day, Beth and her cousin Zoe (Melanie Liburd) travel to Washington, DC to convince Carol to retire from her high school principal duties after she is injured. Mom shoots down retirement quick, fast, and in a hurry.

Beth, Carol (Phylicia Rashad), Zoe (Melanie Liburd) Ron Batzdorff/NBC

While visiting her mother, Beth has a moment with her father’s memory. She’s afraid she has forgotten the dreamer and dancer side of herself. “I can’t be me without you. How could I be?” she tells his empty chair. Abe was her dreamer, her faith, her promise, her believer. Without her dad, Beth has abdicated the role of Dreamer to her husband Randall, who is a man of faith, passion, and big dreams.

Beth finally confronts her mother at 3:00 a.m. Carol can’t sleep. All she wants to do is help a laid-off Beth find a new job. Beth says neither she nor her siblings can breathe around her. There’s no air. Carol says, “I promised my mother I’d push my kids as hard as she pushed me. At least I know you all are okay.” “No. I am not okay, “Beth says. “You took away my dream.” And we find out no one was allowed to grieve Abe’s death. The family just moved on like it never happened.

The next morning, Carol tells Beth that her own father didn’t think girls should be educated. Her mom felt different and pushed Carol toward excellence. Carol pushed so hard that once while she was in college, Abe literally fed her because she wouldn’t stop studying. Abe was Carol’s emotional counterbalance. Without him, her air was gone too. She admits she took dance away from Beth too quickly.

Beth and Carol
Ron Batzdorff/NBC

At the end, Beth decides she wants to be a dance teacher. Carol goes back to work using a walker (surprise).

Everything in Carol Clarke’s being is Strong Black Woman. Emotionally stoic. Distant. Forever suffering. The family rock. The disciplinarian. Handling her business. Always in control.

Big Mama and Carol focused only on their children’s education and professional development because they felt that was the only choice they had. Being a person of African descent in the United States can be dangerous. Being “strong” is necessary because you never know when you’ll be attacked, shot, raped, or killed because of your race. But being “strong” is not the same as being “safe.”

Beth breaks free of the Strong Black Woman persona by pursuing her professional dance dreams. She’s still a wife and mother. She’s also creative and needs to express that side of her.

I still got it!
Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Hallelujah is all I have to say. Beth has broken a multi-generational belief and set herself free. A huge thumbs up for a quality hour of black women on television and to episode writer Eboni Freeman.

This is Us airs Tuesdays at 9:00 pm EST. New episodes return March 5th.

My Oscar Predictions

The 91st annual Academy Awards takes place Sunday, February 24th at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. ABC will air the awards beginning 8:00pm EST. This year’s ceremony will not have an official host.

Here are all the nominations, and who I think should win and who will win. I won’t give long explanations on my choices. Just offering my predictions with minimal, if any, commentary.

During the telecast, I will be live tweeting my oh-so accurate predictions beginning at 8:00 EST!!

PICTURE:
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star is Born
Vice

Should win: Black Panther. Will win: Roma or Green Book. Roma is also nominated in the Best Foreign Film category too. It could win both. If not, the big prize goes to Green Book. However, Black Panther was easily the best movie I saw in 2018.

DIRECTOR:
Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman
Pawel Pawlikowski – Cold War
Yorgos Lanthimos – The Favourite
Alfonso Cuaron – Roma
Adam McKay – Vice

Should win and will win: Alfonso Cuaron. Roma is a vision.

ACTOR:
Christian Bale – Vice
Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born
Willem Dafoe – At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen – Green Book

Should win and will win: Rami Malek. He channeled Freddy Mercury.

ACTRESS:
Yalitza Aparicio – Roma
Glenn Close – The Wife
Oliva Colman – The Favourite
Lady Gaga – A Star is Born
Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Should win and will win: Glenn Close. Six Oscar nominations + Never won+ Forty-five years in the business = “It’s about damn time!!”

SUPPORTING ACTOR:
Mahershala Ali – Green Book
Adam Driver – BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott – A Star is Born
Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell – Vice

Should win: Mahershala Ali. Will win: Sam Elliott. Elliot wins, like Glenn Close, for time spent in the business.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Amy Adams – Vice
Marina de Tavira – Roma
Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone – The Favourite
Rachel Weisz – The Favourite

Should and will win: Regina King. She gave an unforgettable performance in this movie.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
The Favourite – Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
First Reformed – Paul Schrader
Green Book – Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
Roma – Alfonso Cuaron
Vice – Adam McKay

Should and will win: Roma – Alfonso Cuaron

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Joel & Ethan Coen
BlacKkKlansman – Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
Can You Ever Forgive Me? – Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
If Beale Street Could Talk – Barry Jenkins
A Star is Born – Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters

Should and will win: If Beale Street Could Talk – Barry Jenkins

ANIMATED FEATURE:
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Should and will win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Again, one of the best of 2018 that I saw. Spider-Man is one of a kind. The animation alone makes this movie a winner. An Afro-Latino teenage Spider Man gave me the feels. A must-see.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:
Capernaum (Lebanon)
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico)
Shoplifters (Japan)

Should and will win: Roma (Mexico)

CINEMATOGRAPHY:
Cold War – Lukasz Zal
The Favourite – Robbie Ryan
Never Look Away – Caleb Deschanel
Roma – Alfonso Cuaron
A Star is Born – Matthew Libatique

Should and will win: Roma – Alfonso Cuaron

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
RBG

Should win and will win: RBG. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is getting her due.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT:
Black Sheep
End Game
Lifeboat
A Night at the Garden
Period. End of Sentence.

Should and will win: Period. End of Sentence. In a rural village outside Delhi, India, women lead a quiet revolution. They fight against the deeply rooted stigma of menstruation.

ANIMATED SHORT:
Animal Behaviour
Bao
Late Afternoon
One Small Step
Weekends

Should and will win: Bao. A woman who is suffering from empty nest syndrome gets a second shot at motherhood when one of her handmade dumplings springs to life. This is a touching silent film. And it’s a Pixar short film. Pixar rarely goes wrong in it’s storytelling. This film is no exception.

LIVE-ACTION SHORT:
Detainment
Fauve
Marguerite
Mother
Skin

Should and will win: Detainment. Two 10-year-old boys are detained by police under suspicion of abducting and murdering a toddler.

VISUAL EFFECTS:
Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Should win and will win: First Man.

PRODUCTION DESIGN:
Black Panther
The Favourite
First Man
Mary Poppins Returns
Roma

Should win: Black Panther. Will win: Roma.

COSTUME DESIGN:
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Mary Zophres
Black Panther – Ruth Carter
The Favourite – Sandy Powell
Mary Poppins Returns – Sandy Powell
Mary Queen of Scots – Alexandra Byrne

Should win and will win: Black Panther – Ruth Carter. The costumes in Black Panther have never been seen before in film. The costumes are a mix of original and historic rooted in ancient African cultures. This is an easy one. If Ruth Carter doesn’t win, I’ll be ticked off.

MAKE-UP & HAIR:
Border
Mary Queen of Scots
Vice.

Should and will win: Border.

FILM EDITING:
BlacKkKlansman – Barry Alexander Brown
Bohemian Rhapsody – John Ottman
The Favourite – Yorgos Mavropsaridis
Green Book – Patrick J. Don Vito
Vice – Hank Corwin

Should win: Bohemian Rhapsody – John Ottman. Will win:
Green Book – Patrick J. Don Vito

SOUND MIXING:
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
Roma
A Star is Born

Should and will win: Bohemian Rhapsody

SOUND EDITING:
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place
Roma

Should and will win: Bohemian Rhapsody (First Man might sneak up and win.)

ORIGINAL SCORE:
Black Panther – Ludwig Goransson
BlacKkKlansman – Terence Blanchard
If Beale Street Could Talk – Nicholas Britell
Isle of Dogs – Alexandre Desplat
Mary Poppin Returns – Marc Shaiman

Should and will win: If Beale Street Could Talk – Nicholas Britell

ORIGINAL SONG:
“All the Stars” from Black Panther
“I’ll Fight” from RBG
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns
“Shallow” from A Star is Born
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Should and will win: “Shallow” from A Star is Born. It’s Lady Gaga’s year.

Thank you for reading! Follow me Sunday night on Twitter @MochaAngels during the ceremony.

Up next: This is Us (NBC): Strong Black Woman Syndrome.

“Roma” (2018)

If you stopped halfway into Roma on Netflix, go back to finish watching the movie. I get it. It got compelling at the 96 minute mark.

The movie is slow. “Slow as molasses” like my mama used to say. Slow like it used-to-take-forever-to-get-on-the-internet-in-the-early-1990s-because-we-only-had-dial-up-modems slow. If the movie was in English, I would have been doing chores while half-watching. Since it’s in Spanish and has subtitles, I had to pay attention. I’m glad I did. Even the slow building beginning is a piece of art. From minute 96 to the end, Roma is cinematic genius.

The movie premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in August 2018 and opened in theaters in November ahead of its Netflix debut in December. Roma has already earned multiple awards and nominations, including three Golden Globe awards, and Best Picture and Best Director at the British Academy Film Awards. Roma is also nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director for Alfonso Cuaron.

Cleo surrounded by the family she serves. The moment leading up to this group hug is gold.
(Carlos Somonte / Netflix)

Roma tells the story of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), an indigenous Oaxacan live-in maid for a middle-class Mexican family in Mexico City. Cleo is particularly close to the four children. Their bond is key to the movie’s climactic ending. Roma is set in 1970 and 1971 against Mexico’s political strife. Political and domestic tensions rise together in this movie. There were moments where I couldn’t breathe.

Cleo struggles through an unplanned pregnancy at the same time her employer Senora Sofia (Marina de Tavira) is grieving the loss of her marriage to Senor Antonio (Fernando Grediaga). Protests against the government are also coming to a head. The movie comes to a crescendo while a pregnant Cleo and the children’s grandmother, Senora Teresa (Veronica Garcia), are crib shopping for Cleo’s baby. They are caught in the middle of an anti-government protest and have a gun pointed directly at them by the unlikeliest person.

Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and Senora Teresa (Verónica García) walking amid student protesters in Roma. (Carlos Somonte / Netflix)

You don’t have to know anything about Mexican politics to understand the film. Watch the movie first, then go here to learn more: http://time.com/5478382/roma-movie-mexican-history/

This movie is director Alfonso Cuaron’s love letter to his childhood maid, Libo. I was happy to see a movie about an indigenous woman and it’s HER STORY told from HER point of view. Yalitza Aparicio is the first indigenous woman to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Actress (and this is her first acting role ever). I think Glenn Close will win that category, but Arparicio deserves her nomination. I know for sure this movie will at least win Best Director at the Academy Awards. It’s a beautiful film.

Nine out of Ten Mocha Angels.

Roma is rated “R” for graphic nudity, some disturbing images, and language.

Up next: My Oscar predictions. Who should win and who will win.

#metoo on a million little things (ABC)

The body is the crime scene.

That is why recovering from sexual assault is so difficult. Perpetrators can walk away. The victim can never get away. Victims are also told, “It’s your fault.” Bullshit. Gaslighting at it’s finest.

ABC’s rookie drama a million little things addressed sexual assault this past Thursday. Episode 14 “someday” finally gave us the answer as to why Regina (Christina Moses) and her mother Shelly (Romy Rosemont) have such a difficult relationship. Shelly is a passive-aggressive and overbearing mother in the same vein as Marie Barone (Everybody Loves Raymond) and Emily Gilmore (Gilmore Girls), minus the humor.

Rome (Romany Malco, Jr) and Regina (Christina Moses) (ABC/Jack Rowand)

This mother-daughter relationship comes to a head the night before Executive Chef Regina is to open her new restaurant. Regina gets a text from her mother’s brother Neil which reads, “Glad it all worked out.” Regina hasn’t spoke to her uncle in decades. When Regina asks her mother not only why she gave Neil her phone number and address, she also asks, “What does ‘glad it all worked out’ mean?” Shelly admits that she wasn’t the one who helped finance Regina’s restaurant, it was Neil. Regina flips out on her mom and then she tells her business partner Delilah (Stephanie Szostak), “This restaurant will never open. Not with me involved.” With that, Regina is out.

Shelly (Romy Rosemont)

At home, Regina is inconsolable. Her husband Rome (Romany Malco, Jr) asks Maggie (Allison Miller) to help Regina. (FYI: Maggie is a therapist. Her dual role as friend/therapist with Rome and now Regina is pushing serious ethical boundaries, but I’m going to let that go.) That’s when Regina tells the story of her uncle’s sexual assault of her at age 12. She said that when she tried to tell Shelly the day after, her mother’s response was, “You must have misunderstood. He was just trying to comfort you.”

Take the needle off the record. Bae said what? A misunderstanding? 😦 😦 😦 Girl….. 😦 My twists were on fire!

Regina is blaming herself. Rome is hearing all of this for the first time. Maggie is telling her, “You were a 12 year old girl. You did nothing wrong.” That whole scene had me in my feelings. It was hard to watch.

The next morning Regina, Rome, and Maggie (along for emotional support) head to the hospital where Neil is being treated for a never revealed illness. Regina intends to give him the money back and she wants Neil to apologize. Maggie warns her: don’t expect an apology.

In a touch of magical realism, Regina walks past her 12-year-old self on the way to her uncle’s room. She gets to his room only to find his hospital bed empty. “Your uncle died a couple of hours ago,” a doctor tells her. “I’m sorry you didn’t get to say goodbye.” Regina is beyond angry and frustrated that she never got to confront her uncle and she’s mad at her mother for not believing her. Maggie gently says, “Maybe your mom couldn’t hear you because your uncle hurt her too. If she acknowledges your truth, she’s have to admit her own.”

Shelly is walking up to the hospital at that moment. Regina runs to her mother to ask: “What did he do to you?” And with that, mother and daughter have their #metoo moment.

At the end of the episode, Regina does return to a very successful opening night of the restaurant, aptly titled “someday.” (John had told her the night before his death that you can ‘someday’ yourself out of a life.) Regina tells her mom that she’s donating all of Neil’s money to a women’s shelter. Shelly say’s she very proud of her daughter, and Regina cooks her scallops for dinner.

Maggie, Delilah, and Regina (ABC/Jack Rowand)

a million little things deals with the aftermath of suicide, male and female breast cancer, infidelity, divorce, depression, secrets and lies. This story line cannot be dropped. And I’m a bit worried that the show may gloss over this topic. And it’s because Uncle Neil is dead.

As Maggie told Regina, “It’s not about him.” Yes and no. It’s not about him because Regina and Shelly’s healing does not rest on Neil’s apology, acknowledgement, nor validation of his heinous, criminal acts. It is about him in the sense that these women need to vent their rage at him as a part of their healing. Anger and rage are a natural reaction to sexual assault. I want to see these women go through all of their stages of grief so they can heal themselves as well as their relationship. I will be watching.

ABC’s a million little things airs Thursdays at 9:00pm EST.

Up next: a review of Best Picture nominee Roma.

Kristoff St. John (1966-2019): An Appreciation

Kristoff St. John winning his second Emmy award for the role of Neil Winters on The Young and the Restless during the 35th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards held at the Kodak Theatre on June 20, 2008 in Hollywood, California.

I grew up watching daytime soap operas, aka “stories” as black folk call them. My mom watched all the stories on ABC: Ryan’s Hope, General Hospital, One Life to Live, and All My Children.

As a kid, when I stayed over my Aunt Lonnie Mae and Uncle Tillman’s house, they watched all the CBS stories: As The World Turns, Guiding Light, The Bold and the Beautiful, and of course, The Young and the Restless.

There weren’t a lot of black characters on soap operas, daytime or nighttime, when I was a child. When one showed up, black folk paid attention. NBC’s Generations (1989-1991) was the first daytime soap to feature a wealthy black family. Kristoff St. John played “Adam” a young, rich playboy. I didn’t watch Generations, but I did watch The Young and the Restless. When St. John’s character “Neil Winters” showed up to Jabot Cosmetics in 1991 looking for a job, I was like, “Who is that fine-ass brother?”

I said, “Oh, that’s the brother from The Cosby Show! He was Denise’s boyfriend!” Kristoff St. John had been acting since the age of eight. I’m sure I’d seen him before on television, but that one-time role of Denise Huxtable’s boyfriend was memorable because he gave Cliff (Bill Cosby) such a hard time.

On Y&R, Neil was THE MAN. He was beautiful, sexy, smart, charismatic, masculine, and he represented the best of us. Neil was everything. Back in the day, Neil and Drucilla were #relationshipgoals.  In the early to mid-90s, Neil, Drucilla, Malcolm, and Olivia were just the jam. I loved everything about them.

From L to R: Neil (Kristoff St. John), Drucilla (Victoria Rowell), Malcolm (Shemar Moore), and Olivia (Tonya Lee Williams). The Young & The Restless League of Beautiful Black People.

I drifted away from soap operas once I started working full-time, but I kept up with them from a distance. Kristoff St. John became a legend working on Y&R. He was there for 28 years. He won two Emmys in 1992 and 2008 for his role. He was a leading man in a space that didn’t always represent black folk in the best light. I loved that I could jump back into Y&R and there was Neil Winters.

I was so sorry to hear about his son Julian’s suicide in 2014. I remember seeing St. John and his now-ex-wife Mia St. John on television a few years ago talking about how crushing their son’s death was for them. Losing a child is not something a parent ever recovers from. St. John retweeted a tweet a few weeks before he died that read (I’m paraphrasing): “A parent only recovers from a child’s death by being reunited with him.” St. John’s cause of death is unknown for now, but I pray he is at peace and reunited with his son.

In life, Kristoff St. John made the difficult transition from child actor to successful adult actor. In the soap opera world, he became one of the best actors in the business. Thank you Mr. St. John for coming into our homes every day.

Up next: #metoo on a million little things (Thursdays, 9:00pm EST on ABC)

“Coco” (2017)

Miguel wants to sing and play the guitar like his idol, the late Ernesto de la Cruz, a legendary singer. When his dog Dante accidentally shakes the ofrenda and knocks over a photo of Imelda, Coco, and the great-great grandfather with his head ripped away, Miguel sees his relative holding a guitar belonging to Ernesto de la Cruz. Miguel believes de la Cruz is their relative. When Miguel reveals this information and his musical ambition to his family, they do not understand. His Abuelita (grandmother) angrily demands he choose between music and his family. She also destroys Miguel’s own makeshift guitar.

Twelve-year-old Miguel Rivera is the only music-loving person in a multi-generational Mexican family that has banned music from their lives forever. Miguel’s great-great grandfather abandoned his wife Imelda and daughter Coco for a life on the road as a musician. No more music after that. Ancestors are revered and always remembered. Their photos and food are left on the ofrenda (altar). Imelda and all her descendants became shoe-makers. Such is Miguel’s destiny.

Miguel and his dog Dante in the Land of the Dead

Miguel runs away to enter a talent show. He needs a guitar, so he steals de la Cruz’s from the mausoleum dedicated to him. The marigold petals around Miguel light up and suddenly he sees deceased spirits on this Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). No one alive can see Miguel except his dog Dante. Some of Miguel’s relatives escort him to The Land of the Dead, which is more alive than The Land of the Living in many ways.

Miguel finds his great-great grandmother Imelda angry because she cannot travel back to The Land of the Living on this auspicious day. Her picture was knocked off the ofrenda.  The family learns that Miguel has a curse placed on him for stealing a guitar of the deceased de la Cruz, which has turned him into an incomplete spirit. Miguel must leave The Land of the Dead by sunrise or he will turn into a spirit forever.

Only a blessing from a deceased relative can send Miguel back to The Land of the Living. Imelda gives Miguel her blessing on one condition: give up music. He promises to do so. Miguel is transported back to the mausoleum, then immediately takes the guitar. Three seconds later he is back in The Land of the Dead because he broke his promise. Furious, Imelda demands Miguel do what she says. Miguel refuses and runs off to get the blessing of his great-great grandfather Ernesto de la Cruz.

I’m stopping at the point where Miguel leaves for his quest to find Ernesto de la Cruz. This movie is SPECTACULAR. It has every possible fantastic thing going for it, including stunning, colorful animation, beautiful music, and a near perfect story.

Coco also raises the stakes: Miguel MUST return home by sunrise or he is stuck in the spirit world. Hector, his ally, MUST have Miguel place his photo on the ofrenda ASAP or he will fade into nothingness. By the time Miguel, back in The Land of the Living, runs to his Mama Coco, my tears were already falling. The ending is right up there with all three Toy Story movies, which all ended on the perfect note. (Makes me worried about Toy Story 4, so we’ll see.)

The only thing I didn’t like was that I didn’t see the movie in a theater. “Coco” is a film meant to be seen on a big screen.

An enthusiastic Ten out of Ten Mocha Angels.

Finding My Voice

Advice from 2001 helped me find my way back to me.

I met Tananarive Due at a writers conference in Dallas in 2001. The note reads: “To Althea — Keep on writing what’s in your heart. It was a pleasure to meet you!” She is one of my favorite authors. I was over the moon!!

I inhaled comic books as a kid until my mother put Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye in my hands around age eight. My parents were afraid a reading diet of only comics was eating away at my brain. It didn’t help that after I read the book, my mom asked me, “Why did Pecola want blue eyes?”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged.

“Because she wanted to be white!” she said to me, obviously frustrated. Now I understand her frustration was really fear because I didn’t comprehend the novel. Toni Morrison was WAY above my pay grade as an eight-year-old. My mom didn’t have to worry because the very next “adult” novel I read (voluntarily) was Langston Hughes’ Not Without Laughter. (Unfortunately, he is not related to me.) Hughes hooked me. Comic books were out, and middle school, young adult, and adult literature was in.

Judy Blume, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, Virginia Hamilton, Mildred D. Taylor, J. California Cooper, even Donald Goines (my dad’s books)….I read all of their books and more growing up. The library was my second home. By nine years old, I knew I wanted to write for a living.

 I wrote my first books in fourth and fifth grade as school assignments.

In 11th and 12th grade, I wrote for a local Atlanta newspaper called The Purple Cow. It was distributed to all the high schools in metro Atlanta.

My first cover. I was even writing poetry in high school.

Then I went to the University of Georgia. I let myself get distracted by boys. I lost my voice on Day 1.

College was such a twisted experience that I had to write about it, as fiction, of course. It took seven years, but I got it done. Walking The Line was released in September 2000. I won an award and life was good.



I found out on my birthday that I had won. One of the highlights of my life.

Then I lost my voice again. I wrote a book called Mocha Angels: 365 Days of Angel Messages which is unpublished. I also have an unfinished magical realism novel. I struggled to find my voice through my food blog The Vegan Mocha Angel. Even there, I stopped writing for two years.

Speaking up and speaking clearly in order to be be understood emotionally has been a struggle for me as an adult. I stopped trusting my own ability to make good decisions. I have struggled mightily with depression. I have either learned/studied/received Healing Touch, Reiki, Hatha Yoga, massage, Emotional Freedom Technique, Tantra, Kundalini Yoga, meditation, relationship coaching, and psychotherapy. I have analyzed my entire life from the circumstances around my conception through today. I have learned to forgive others and myself, and to not walk through life fearful. Love is all there really is.

Once I broke through the emotional clutter, I realized all I have ever wanted to do with my life is write.

Minimalism is also one of my interests. Living with less is what I’m striving for. Emotional clutter reflects as physical clutter. So as I was cleaning out my desk drawer a few weeks ago, I found Tananarive’s note, dated June 3, 2001. Keep writing what is in your heart.

I pondered the question, “what exactly is in my heart?” for weeks. The art of story is what’s in my heart. I enjoy studying and analyzing character, motivation, dialog, setting, pace, plot, theme, costume, direction, cinematography. I love doing that because the study of story makes me a better writer.

Life is also a story of our own creation. What we think, how we think, how we treat ourselves, nurture, and nature all shape who we become. The person who analyzes life and story the best is award-wining author Steven Barnes, who is also Tananarive Due’s husband. His analytic Lifewriting approach is not only fascinating, it’s groundbreaking.

https://stevenbarneslife.wordpress.com/

I thank Steve and Tananarive for helping me break through. I thank my guides, angels, and ancestors for raising me up and helping me even when I was totally closed off to their guidance. I thank Love and I’m thankful for Love, always, for guiding me back to my little girl self who only wanted to write.