5 Lessons I Learned from the Movie American Gangster

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American Gangster is based on the true story of real-life drug kingpin Frank Lucas, who by the 1960s constructed an international drug ring that spanned from New York to South East Asia. The film features Denzel Washington as Lucas and a New York City cop (Russell Crowe) who busted a big-time heroin ring. I have a love-hate relationship with this movie. In no way do I condone selling drugs and yet I will still watch this movie. There’s a little angel on my shoulder, shaking her head in disgust and a little devil smirking at me as we both smile while watching Denzel’s swag.

I’ve been a bad girl

So anyway, I was watching American Gangster last week, and I started typing away at the notepad on my phone. Somehow, I had managed to think about writing. These days, I watch movies to see if they are written well, educational, and entertaining. Eventually, I had come up with a list of things I learned, and I thought I’d share it with you.

Lesson #1: Influence

“I want what you got Uncle Frank. I wanna be you.”

One of the most powerful aspects of this movie is the message on Influence. Social influence occurs when someone’s emotions, opinions, or behaviors are affected by others. In the film, Frank’s nephew Stevie Lucas is an excellent baseball player and had been playing since he was a child. Now at the prominent financial level to do so, Frank schedules a meeting for his nephew Stevie (T.I.) with the Dodgers. Stevie does not show up. Now that he was part of his Uncle’s drug enterprise, he no longer had a desire to play ball. Instead, Stevie wants to be a drug kingpin like Frank. This scene is one of the saddest parts of the movie for me when Stevie Lucas says he doesn’t want to play baseball anymore, although that was his passion since childhood. Instead, he wanted to be a drug dealer.

This scene is a reminder that you are not just living for yourself. The decisions you make and the opinions you give do not only belong to you but can influence the people around you. We don’t have to be celebrities or someone great to have influence. Somewhere, in our little corner of the world, someone is listening to us and silently taking our advice. People are watching you whether you know it or not and whether they speak up about it or not. The danger in this is that people will follow your example. Sadly, even when you’re wrong if they admire you enough.

Lesson #2: Follow Your Own Advice

“The loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.”

Frank said this to Huey Lucas, his brother, after seeing him hanging out with Nicky Barnes, “one of the biggest heroin dealers in the country,” a 1977 New York Times Magazine article titled “Mister Untouchable” stated. Nicky is known as being arrogant and living an extravagant lifestyle. In the movie, Huey had taken on Nicky’s colorful way of dress and his arrogant demeanor.

There is so much to learn from this quote alone. It goes hand in hand with the phrase, “the more you talk, the less you know.” Usually, it’s the people who are the weakest who makes the most noise.

Frank then turned around and wore an expensive fur, bought by his wife, to the Ali/Fraizer fight–the same “clown suit” he warned his brother not to wear–and stuck out like a sore thumb. This fur is what made the police take notice of him and pay attention to him. From this one mistake, they learned of Franks every move.

The message here is for one to remember to take their own advice, which is not always easy to do if a person is not paying attention. I am sure we all have an instance to which we forgot to take our own advice.

Lesson #3: The Love of Money

“Success has enemies…quitting while you are ahead is not the same as quitting.”

All any black man wants to do is take care of his family, but Frank had a significant role in the direction of his brother’s life. He didn’t have to travel to North Carolina and recruit them in his drug empire. His brothers and cousins were country boys, and while each is entitled to one’s own choices and decisions (his brothers could have decided not to participate after discovering what the business was about), Frank is responsible for his part in taking advantage of his brother’s innocence. Frank was the oldest (if the movie is correct in this portrayal) and they looked up to him. He could have used his influence more positively. Even his mother in the film said: “If you were a preacher they would have all been preachers.” This example goes back to lesson number one. We all have people who watch us and look up to us even if we don’t know it. Frank could have used his money to invest in legit companies for his brothers, leaving them out of the drug business.

Lesson #4: The Business Mind

“Nobody owns me though. That’s ’cause I own my own company and my company sells a product that’s better than the competition, at a price that’s lower than the competition.”

There’s a lot to learn about business in this movie. Even though the market here is, unfortunately, selling drugs, I believe you can get a lesson from anything if you’re paying enough attention to it. One of Frank’s many experiences had to do with launching a new product that was cheap but still held quality. Frank stepped outside of the established heroin supply chain by cutting out the middleman and not diluting the heroine. In the 1970s, the heroine was often diluted with sugars, chalk, flour, or powdered milk to stretch it, so ddicts understood that the drug would have a lower potency. To create his one-of-a-kind “product,” Frank went directly to the source, a heroin producer in Saigon, Vietnam. In the movie, Frank didn’t dilute his heroin, which made it more potent. He also sold the undiluted, more potent drug at a lower price.

The lesson here is that sometimes you have to step outside of your comfort circles to reach new levels. If broke people surround you, then you will more than likely be broke too. If people with no vision surround you, then all you will ever do is have a dream. If you want to reach new levels, you have to surround yourself with people who are where you want to be. Want to publish a book? Want to understand how it’s done? Then surround yourself with people who are doing it right and take advice from people who have made it to where you want to be. This same thing applies to any business.

Lesson #5: Not Everything is as it Seems

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The final and most important lesson is not to believe everything that you see. Much of this movie is made up by Hollywood. Denzel Washington is a more smooth and exaggerated version of the real Frank Lucas (and in some ways, we all kinda wish the real Frank was a lot more like Denzel). The real Frank Lucas was not Bumpy Johnson’s driver for 15 years, and he was not with Bumpy when he died. The real Frank Lucas did dilute his heroin, though not as much as the other dealers. The real Frank Lucas did collect numerous mink and chinchillas aside from the one his wife bought him, and the real Frank Lucas is mentioned as being just as “flashy” as Nicky Barnes. The real Frank Lucas is also rumored to have been illiterate.

The persona of the copy, Richie Roberts, was also exaggerated in the movie. He did not have a child and was not in a custody battle with his ex-wife. He also had a much smaller role in the capturing of Frank Lucas.

The lesson here is to remember to do your research. Don’t just believe the movies you watch, the articles/books you read, or the things that you see on social media. Even salt looks like sugar, and spoiled milk is still white. Always double-check your facts.


Sources:

http://brandautopsy.com/

http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/americangangster.php

https://www.biography.com/people/frank-lucas-253710

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Lucas_(drug_dealer)

http://www.complex.com/style/2013/01/the-10-most-stylish-drug-kingpins-of-all-time/khun-sa

Heroin: From the Civil War to the 70s, and Beyond

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Movie Night Friday: Antwone Fisher

Guess whoose bizzaack! That’s right, Movie Night Friday! I’ve been thinking it over for awhile and I think this will be a fun re-edition to this blog. For a little PBS Blog History,  a year ago I started Movie Night Friday. I did this because I wanted you all to get to know me better through the movies I watch. One thing I am always seeking to do is build better relationships with my readers. I also wanted to show that this blog is about more than writing, but provides a variety of subject matter. However, Movie Night Friday did not do very well and in an attempt to ensure growth, I moved it to its own page. In this way, anyone who is interested can go back and take a look-see. If you’d like to check out some of my favorite movies, Click Here.

I have decided to revamp MNF and to try and keep it going. To celebrate, I am introducing a new badge:

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Isn’t he cute!? I love doggies and (aside from waiting until we move back into the country so I can get one!), I thought this would be an excellent re-boost to this feature. This little guy will be joining us every Friday and he is so ready to watch movies. That said, let’s get on into it, shall we?

antwone-fisher-movie-poster-2002-1020476094In addition to the movies I’ve already talked about, another movie I really enjoy is Antwone Fisher. Being from the south side of Chicago and growing up in Robert Taylor I am no stranger to struggle, both economically and psychologically. I know how it feels to feel abandoned and in a desperate need to find oneself. I can even relate to him being in a foster home. So this movie really pulls at my heart strings. It has all of the elements that I think makes for a good film, emotional intensity, action, drama, and of course, a little romance. Antwone Fisher is also a true story which makes it even better. It’s not just a fictional tale but factual accounts of what really happened to someone. Here’s a snippet of what the movie is about:

“The touching story of a sailor (Derek Luke) who, prone to violent outbursts, is sent to a naval psychiatrist (Denzel Washington) for help. Refusing at first to open up, the young man eventually breaks down and reveals a horrific childhood. Through the guidance of his new doctor, he confronts his painful past and begins a quest to find the family he never knew.”

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Yea that’s right, Denzel is in this one so you already know its on point. Antwone Fisher, the man, is also….wait for it…a poet. Among other things. I am proud to say that I have a collection of his poetry on my shelf, “Who Will Cry For The Little Boy?” (Don’t ask me why it looks like that! I’ve had it awhile obviously and yes,  before the movie lol…< He recites his poem by this name in the movie). He also has a memoir entitled: Finding Fish, which I do believe started it all, and his most recent work (2010) “A Boy Should Know How to Tie a Tie”. Below is a snippet from Wikipedia on the man behind the movie:

“Fisher was born in prison to a single mother. His father Eddie Elkins had been shot dead by a jealous girlfriend two months earlier. Antwone was placed in a foster home weeks after he was born and remained in foster care through most of his childhood. After living with a foster mother for two years, Fisher was taken away from her. He was then planed into another foster home with a family named the Picketts. He spent 14 years of his childhood with the Picketts and was abused physically, verbally, and sexually. He was then moved from the Pickett home after having a fight with hi foster mother. Antwone was sent to George Junior Republic School, a discipline school for boys, from which he graduated prior to joining the United States Navy.

 

After three years with the Bureau of Prisons, he began to work as a security guard for Sony Pictures. It was there Fisher decided to find his true family members. He contacted Annette Elkins, who turned out to be his aunt. Within months of this contact, Fisher met all of his family, including his mother Eva Mae. He learned that she had given birth to four other children who were taken away as wards of the state. Fisher said after their meeting, “In the place inside me where hurt of abandonment had been, now only compassion lived.”

Most of this is portrayed in the movie (except the mention of his brothers and sisters) and the director did a great job, who is by the way, Denzel Washington. Luke is also a very good actor and very handsome. Denzel better watch out now, the ladies love Luke. LOL. Below is the Trailer to the movie and as always, thank you for stopping by!

Movie Trailer:

Did you see this movie? What do you like about it? Don’t be shy, comment below!

Movie Night Friday – The Great Debaters

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Welcome back to another segment of Movie Night Friday on The PBS Blog, where I list some of my favorite movies and why I love them.


This week, I’d like to discuss The Great Debaters.

The-Great-Debaters-2007-picture-MOV_b726c816_b I love this movie and I can give extensive reasons why but if I am honest, the real reason is poetry. I like The Great Debaters movie because their debates sound like spoken word poetry.  Even before I knew Melvin Tolson was a poet, I found the language, even basic dialogue, so very poetic and the debates as Open Mic Nights.

Aside from this, there was also the concept of race in America and parenthood. Yes, parenthood. James Farmer Sr. was so engulfed in his work that he did not often give much attention to his son. For example, James Jr. was letting his father know, subtly, that he liked Samantha Booke, another fellow debater and classmate. He mentioned her as one of the alternatives among the group and, recognizing this, his father reminded him that “you must not take your eyes off the ball son.” While this was all good (as I loved the “we do what we have to do in order to do what we want to do” line) Farmer Sr. didn’t realize at that moment the opportunity to speak with his son about girls. It was this knowledge that upset his mom who didn’t say anything but whose anger could be seen in her sudden fast pace in peeling the potatoes. She recognized her husband’s failure to take this opportunity to have an intimate conversation with his son. This is the kind of writing that I love; the kind that could reveal an emotion or a feeling even without it being verbalized.

The Great Debaters is a movie based on real events about the poet and professor Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington) who teaches at the predominately black Wiley College in Marshall Texas, in 1935. Tolson starts a debate team and as the tryouts begin and end, Tolson picks four students, three of which become the central focus of the movie. As the students prepare to challenge various schools, we see also how they deal with the challenges that face them in the Jim Crow south.

4While at first Tolson butts head with the influential father (Forest Whitaker) of one of his best debaters, eventually Tolson is able to form a team of strong-minded, intelligent young students, and they become the first black debate team to challenge Harvard’s prestigious debate champions.

“Who’s the judge?”

“The judge is God.”

“Why is he God?”

“Because he decides who wins or loses, not my opponent.”

One of my favorite lines is this one. While I believe in calling the father by his name, Yah, I understand what this scene means and I like it because it’s strengthening even for those of us who are watching the movie. No matter who you think you are against, the judge is always Yah, not your opponent. In the end, we will be asked about our own sins and not the sins of others.

Tolson’s political views, add more to the story. He is a man who sneaks out at night to a country barn wearing overalls and works boots. And as rumors of radical communism sparks, it causes him to lose one of his students. Tolson is not to be undone, however, and keeps his politics out of the classroom. While the movie highlights his knowledge of poetry as he teaches English, it does not mention that he is a leading poet. Tolson in fact, published long poems in such magazines as the Atlantic Monthly and in 1947 was named poet laureate of Liberia.

History

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As stated, this movie is based on the real-life events of the student debate team of Wiley College. Under the leadership of Tolson, Wiley College’s debate team became legendary. It won almost every debate among historically-black colleges and became the first to debate a white college when it took on and defeated Oklahoma City College in 1932. The team’s crowning achievement, however, came in 1935 when it defeated that year’s national champions, the University of Southern California. And naturally, after the movie was made in 2007, Wiley College rose to popularity again with increased enrollment and the re-establishing of its debate team.

My Favorite Line:

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“I am here to help you to find, take back, and keep your righteous mind because obviously you have lost it.”

Trailer:

Funny Movie Mistakes:

It was hard to find any real mistakes in this movie. Most people say it is the Willie Lynch Speech, that there was no such letter and Tolson’s reciting of this piece of History is flawed. However, I do not believe that. I believe The Willie Lynch Letter did exist because I don’t believe in coincidences. Everything written in that letter to other slave owners on how to control their slaves can be seen in the behavior of many in the black community today. From the separation of the races by color (pitch the dark skin slave against the light skin slave), to the Making of a Slave and the Breaking process of the Black woman.

What’s your favorite movie? Why do you love it?”

Movie Night Friday – Malcolm X

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Welcome back to another week of Movie Night Friday, where I present some of my favorite movies and why I love them. Next up on our list is Malcolm X:

sjff_02_img07402I still don’t understand why Denzel Washington could win an Oscar for Training Day and not Malcolm X, it is in my opinion one of his best roles (Washington did win the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor). Directed and co-written by Spike Lee, Malcolm X released in November of ’92 and is based on the life of Malcolm X from his Biography. It was a time where, after the crack epidemic of the 80’s, Black people had begun to pick up some inkling of consciousness. You’ll notice many movies in the early 90s where blacks wore Kufi’s, and Dashiki’s as an indication of awareness (even though not completely, there is always stepping stones that take place in our lives that start us on the right path). Needless to say Malcolm X was a hit.

MalcolmxdvdsetThe movie takes us through the life of Malcolm Little, his early life as a gangster and as a criminal and his transformation as the controversial Islamic, Black Nationalist leader Malcolm X. For the record, I am not a Muslim, but I love how Denzel showed Malcolm’s passion and anyone with access to YouTube can verify this in the eyes of the real Malcolm. It’s one thing to make a speech or stand for something, but it’s a completely different thing when you are sincere about it, when you have passion that comes from the depths of your very heart and Malcolm had this. He had this and it lit a fire under those who wished to be apart of change for the so called Black people. And because of the traumatic experiences of America, we more than our brothers and sisters in any other country worldwide, need the kind of discipline that Malcolm brought forward; a tough love if you will. I also love the outreach programs catered to the community and the re-instilling of a love of self; the teaching of black people to embrace, as Malcolm put it, “their beautiful black selves”. Of course today I have a different perspective on the whole black thing (as I do not believe our nationality is defined by a color, that we are from the lost tribe of shabbaz or that white people are devils, for the record), but this movie was a great first step for many young people, such as myself, to dig deeper into the question of nationhood. The movie even portrayed Malcolm’s awareness that the Hebrews, was (are) Black Skinned:

Yea Yea, ignore the title of the video because this isn’t about religion and it’s deeper than color, but the point is that scenes such as this is a great introduction to full understanding for someone who otherwise does not know.

Moving on…

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Additionally, I loved the way Malcolm explained things because not everyone can do that. Yes, you say that you believe in something but what is that belief based on? And what do you mean? Malcolm spoke to understanding, he was precise, knowledgeable, and aware on a level that made your head spin. Just watching this movie alone makes me excited and compelled to do something. But of all this, the most important part of the movie, in which it was careful not to go into much detail, was the end, Malcolm’s split from the NOI (Nation of Islam)

tumblr_lkf98qX9Yl1qhvyhzo1_1280You see, I cannot judge neither Malcolm X or Martin Luther King Dr., for what they were for the first part of their lives. For me, what’s important is how they ended their lives. Malcolm X left this world with a different outlook on life and I do believe he understood the truth completely. He discovered the lies and attempted to expose the truth when he was murdered, as did Dr. King (whose entire jaw was blown off as symbolism that you keep your mouth shut). You see, men of this caliber, who spark this much power among black people, they aren’t just killed by random acts of violence, they are murdered and this is not political mumbo jumbo nor is it conspiracy theory; this is conspiracy fact.

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In 2010, Malcolm X the film, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Trailer:

Funny Movie Mistakes:

When Malcolm is talking on the telephone in an extreme close up, you can see the connector on the phone is one of the modern snap-in modular jacks. Telephones in the 1960’s did not have those.

Watch the movie and see if you can spot the knot!

“What’s your favorite movie? Why do you love it?”