Black History Fun Fact Friday – UNDERGROUND TV Show

Since the TV show I want to feature today as part of our “Movie” Night Friday was Underground anyway, I decided to combine it with Black History Fun Fact Friday since it is on the same lines.

Today, we are discussing Underground, one of the most powerful TV shows on right now. (One of the deepest movies is GET OUT. You must check into it if you have not gone to see it).

First, let’s catch you up:

Wikipedia: About Underground

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Photo Credit: WGN America – Underground

“Driven by the dreams of a courageous blacksmith named Noah, some plantation slaves in 1850s Georgia band together to attempt a daring escape. The fight for their lives, their futures and their freedom leads to Noah’s risk-filled plan to travel hundreds of miles away via the Underground Railroad. The landmark 10-episode anthology is created by Misha Green (“Sons of Anarchy”) and Joe Pokaski (“Daredevil”) and co-executive produced by John Legend, who also oversees the series’ score, soundtrack and musical elements.”

Trailer of Season One:

We are now in Season Two and it is already off to a blood racing start. One of the reasons I love this show is because it is well-written, something that does not happen often on television. What I mean by well-written is that the history is accurate. While there are plenty of sad parts (as slavery was not pretty) it is well balanced with factual information. The creators (and actors) of this show didn’t just throw something together. They did their research.

Who Ran the Railroad – The Underground Railroad is often portrayed as being ran mostly by white abolitionists with lots of people. While white abolitionists and Quakers surely helped, a lot of the people running the show were free blacks from the North too and I love how the program shows this (though subtly) by having Rosalee and the others front and center of the operation and not in the background just being “carried” by the helping whites. “…very few people, relatively speaking, engaged in its activities. After all, it was illegal to assist slaves escaping to their freedom. Violating the 1850 Act could lead to charges of “constructive treason.” Being an abolitionist or a conductor on the Underground Railroad, the historian Donald Yacovone related in an email to me, “was about as popular and as dangerous as being a member of the Communist Party in 1955.”

– Henry Louis Gates Jr.

The most noted black man who helped to run The Underground Railroad is William Still who operated with the assistance of white abolitionists. William Still, a free-born Black, became an abolitionist movement leader and writer and was also one of the most successful Black businessmen in the history of the City of Philadelphia. Next week, I’ll do a Black History Fun Fact on him with more details.

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Humanizing Harriet Tubman – Another thing I see is that the writers and directors of Underground humanizes Harriet Tubman. As much as we complain about too many “slave stories” we really don’t know as much about slavery as we think we do, first because we weren’t there and second because we don’t study history. All we really know about Harriet are the quotes we read but in this show she is brought to life and has feelings. She is brave but also fearful. She is fierce but also concerned. She’s a warrior but still a woman; a gentle mother-like figure to Rosalee (The Black Rose) as she takes her under her wing. One of the ways to which Harriet is humanized in addition to these emotions is the calling of her by her nickname: Moses.

Female Moses – Also, called “General Tubman” people began to call Harriet Tubman Moses because of her leading her people out of slavery like Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt. The powerful thing about this to me is that we are the same people. There is countless evidence of the physical appearance of the ancient Israelites but not just the physical appearance but also the culture of the people. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 c.e. by the Roman Emperor Titus and his general Vespasian, we fled into East Africa (Ethiopia, Egypt, the Sudan, etc.) and from there migrated to other parts of the African continent, widely settling on the West Coast to the extent that some tribal African nations still observe Hebrew customs and traditions. Tribes such as the Yoruba, Congo, and Ashanti can still be found keeping laws that can also be found in the Old Testament.

Upon The Transatlantic Slave Trade and our enslavement in the U.S. and pretty much everywhere else (we did not just come into America but were spread across the four corners) we sang many songs (spirituals) that told the history of who we were as a people before slavery. These songs, like “Go down Moses” and “Wade in the Water” (for which a lyric is, “Who’s that dressed in white, must be the Israelites”) was not just the symbolism of a spiritual people but the history of a people who lived the lyrics. Thus, Harriet’s nickname is powerful not just because her leadership in freeing her people from America is symbolic of Moses freeing us from Egypt, but also because she is his ancestor. In the words of Malcolm X, “You are the people of the book. You are the lost sheep.”

Harriet Tubman’s Spells – Speaking of Moses, I was excited to see that they put this in the show because it is a fact we don’t hear often. Harriet Tubman suffered from severe headaches, and seizures. She also had a form of narcolepsy where she would fall asleep without notice. Her condition caused her to have visions believed to have helped her in her missions. They showed this in Wednesday’s episode when she fell asleep at the table.

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Aldis Hodge as “Noah”

Full Beards – I love the full beards and the masculine image of the black man. It was a subtle thing but present. I imagine Moses, David, or Gideon wore beards like that. Nonetheless, this is how men grew their beards back then, very thick and covering the whole lower face. Sometimes you couldn’t even see their mouths.

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Photo Credit: WGN America: Underground

Slave Examinations / NFL Combine Evaluations – Speaking of black men, they showed you how enslaved blacks were inspected when they were looking at Noah’s teeth and body when he was in jail. (Speaking of jail, such physical examinations also happen there.) Enslaved blacks were naked and examined before they were bought to show potential buyers that they were of good stock and to determine how useful that person would be based on age, size and health. With the NFL combine, evaluators try to project the player’s longevity. Players strip down to bare minimums to have their bodies pricked and prodded for size and strength in an eerily similar way as their ancestors were pricked and prodded by slave buyers. The more they can get out of a player, the better. Enslaved Blacks worth was similarly judged by what the plantation owners believed they could get out of the enslaved long term.

Moss on the Tree – Another subtly, it is a testament to the story’s attention to historic detail. As Noah is trying to escape his captors, he notices the moss on the tree. This told him which direction he was going because there’s a tendency for moss to grow on the north side of the tree in the Northern Hemisphere.

Sweet-grass Baskets – The baskets the women carried on their heads are sweet-grass baskets, one of the oldest handcrafts of African origin used to separate the rice seed from its chaff. Speaking of women, we didn’t even talk about how fearless they were. I loved the part when Elizabeth thought they were going to pull out sewing items but they pulled out guns but I will stop here.

I hope I’ve sparked enough curiosity for you to go ahead and watch the show! Or at the very least get some young people you know to watch it as a History lesson. It airs every Wednesday @ 9:00a CST on WGN. (No one paid me to say this. Maybe I should ask for a check).

Underground Season Two Trailer

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7 Thoughts On The New Roots

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When I first heard they were remaking Roots, I was skeptical. I thought, “Some movies do not need to be remade.” I admit, I was looking on the physical and thinking, “Maybe it won’t be as powerful as the first.” But after watching it I must say it remains one of the most powerful series on TV, followed by Underground.  But first, here’s a little History:

What is Roots?

Roots: The Saga of an American Family is a book published by Alex Haley in 1976 with a miniseries of the book that first premiered on television in 1977. During this post-civil rights era the show is about the ancestors of Alex Haley, particularly Kunta Kinte, who was kidnapped from his life in Africa and sold as a slave on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The Show was put out in a series of eight episodes to try and get it out the way as the networks didn’t think it would do well. However, the show proved them wrong, airing over the course of eight days and helping to galvanize a nation. See, to understand why Roots the remake is important in this day and time is to understand the history behind it and what it did to America. The TV series led to a renewed interest in genealogy from blacks who, due to slavery, felt robbed of their identity and cultural heritage:

If you weren’t there—if you’ve only known television in its post-Big Three networks era—it’s hard to understand the impact of the original Roots. Based on Alex Haley’s book of “faction,” the ABC miniseries’ 12 hours (with commercials) were spread across eight consecutive nights in January 1977, an unprecedented programming move that consolidated the show’s status as an event. The subsequent audience ratings were also unprecedented: 85% of television households, or 130 to 140 million Americans (more than half the U.S. population) saw at least part of the series; an estimated 100 million viewers tuned in for the two-hour finale on Sunday, January 30. – http://www.biography.com/news/alex-haley-roots-tv-show

1. Our Culture

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In the remake, the ancient culture of the African American was well represented. For centuries we’ve been taught  that we were animals running around naked with large hoops in our ears and swinging from trees. Taught that we were just Africans. While no TV show has gone as deep as to proclaim the unadulterated truth concerning our roots (not even Roots), I did enjoy the pieces of it sprinkled in the opening village scenes in the beginning because its an accurate portrayal of some of our culture. I loved that they showed the ancient garments, the head wraps and  the midwives. Even the spreading of the palms to the heavens to pray. This is what we did and how we did it.

2. Stripped

By the time Kunta was on the slave ships he’s naked. Now we’ve seen this before in other shows but what does it mean? This is highly significant of being stripped of your entire way of life. Gone is the beautiful blue garb, gone is the honor and the esteem, gone is the culture, and gone is the name that defines who you are.

3. Names

I don’t want yall to sleep on the name part. Kizzy told Chicken George, “Your name is who you are. My daddy took beatings to protect his name”. Very powerful. People like to take names for granted. Often we look at them and they don’t hold any real significance but names are very important. Take away a persons name and you strip their entire identity. Your name is your character, and your persona. Your name is who you are. When we were stripped of our name, we were stripped of everything.

4. Biblical Insight

One of my most favorite scenes is when Chicken George introduced his mother Kizzy to his future wife and father in law and she said to him: “Massa don’t want you teaching about Exodus. About how the children of Israel walked across the red sea to freedom. He tore that right out the book.” Very powerful scene. Why? Because its the whole reason we weren’t allowed to read and write. Massa just didn’t say you couldn’t read because he thought you were an animal, an inhumane being. That’s only part of it. He didn’t want you to read because he didn’t want you to read the bible. Now why is that? Because the bible is black history.

5. Whites Persecuted

Another powerful thing this show portrayed is the persecution of Europeans who help blacks. This is also something they showed in Underground and I think its something that African Americans cannot sleep on. There are, and have always been, those of other nationalities who were wiling to help blacks to their deaths. Blacks were not the only ones lynched and maimed and murdered but also those who helped them.

6. Less is More

I didn’t like that they cut the series in half. I think it was too short. I also found it funny initially that Kunta’s character wasn’t switched out like in the first one so he looked the same throughout the series. However, I noticed that instead of going verbatim to the original they filled in those parts of the story that were missing from the first part. This was smart I think of the directors because this version has its own original feel. I thought this new Roots wasn’t going to be good compared to the first one but in truth they each are separate shows. While they tell the same story, the new Roots has a modern feel to it. Lawrence Fishburne, T.I. and Mekhi Phifer make their appearance and Kunta is a beast!

7. Now or Then?

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I don’t think the new roots can compare to the original. I also do not think the original could speak to today’s youth like the new one. I don’t think one is better over the other. To me that’s irrelevant. What is relevant is the resurrection of a thirst for that lost history among a group of people today so far removed from their Roots.

Underground

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The season premiere of Underground aired this pasted Wednesday, March 9, 2016. The TV series stars Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Aldis Hodge and is about a group of slaves planning to escape a large plantation and will be helped by an abolitionist couple along the way. Underground is short for the Underground railroad, a system of secret routes and safe houses used to help slaves to escape to free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause. Below is a synopsis of the show:

“Early in the premiere of WGN America’s slave-revolt drama Underground, a captured runaway named Noah (Aldis Hodge) is shoved into a decrepit shed on a plantation in rural Georgia. The year is 1857; the Civil War is still four long years away. The camera whips around 360 degrees from Noah’s point of view, catching glimpses of sick, malnourished black men and women, all of them shivering in makeshift bunks and slumped against unforgiving walls. And though he does not say a word, the sequence immediately establishes Noah as the show’s determined protagonist. At the risk of sounding crass given the historical atrocity the show unflinchingly deals with, it feels like the moment when this slave resolves to be something of a superhero.”

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I started looking into this show about a month before its premiere, watching interviews of the actors and the making of the show itself. I also follow Smollett on Twitter and she’s been very excited about it. My opinion of the show? So far so good. The premiere has a nice set up or rather introduction into how the show will play itself out. We can already see who the people are who will help the slaves to escape, those who will possibly create safe houses for them for instance, and those, both black and white, who will be their stumbling block. I love the determination of Noah to recruit others in their attempt to escape the plantation, that he has a plan and that, as he says it, escaping is not just about running but will require the slaves to work together in a strategic way. In short, I am so far enjoying the coming together of the crew and I look forward to the rest of the series.

If You’re Excited About Empire

fox-empireThen you are NOT paying attention.

 

  • Why are people praising the Pope and what was his and Obama’s secret meeting about?
  • Why is everyone calling the election a joke and is there any truth to this and what would that mean?
  • Why are the Syrians leaving and the Russians coming in?
  • Why is China making Islands in the middle of the sea?
  • Why Did Japan OK greater overseas role for Military and what does this mean?
  • Why did a man wake up from a coma and remembers a completely different life and speaks in an ancient tongue?
  • Why is FEMA posting signs urging people to store water and food for a minimum of 30 days?
  • Why is the U.S. Dollar so weak? And do you even know that it is?

 

….Of course not. We have to get ready for our BBQ’s and get-togethers because Empire Premiers tonight.

The Writer in Me: TV

A Supernatural Meme that has nothing to do with this post
A Supernatural Meme that has nothing to do with this post

Does the writer in you get in the way of certain normal activities? Do you react differently in certain situations because of how you analyze the writing in it? Maybe you used to read books strictly for entertainment, but now you can’t stop noticing run-on sentences and comma splices. Well, maybe that’s more along the lines of the Grammatical Geeks (of which I happen to not be one of them, for those of you who’ve counted all of my grammatical mistakes in the first two sentences of this post) but you get the point. For instance, watching movies is not just about watching movies anymore. I don’t know about you, but TV means so much more now than entertainment on a number of levels. One of those levels is writing. When I sit down to watch a good TV show or movie, one thing I notice is how well (or poorly) the writer outlined a scene. Sure the director and actors play a major role, but I’m also looking at how the story was written, what was left out, and why. Its kinda weird I’ll admit. I’m probably the only person who yells at the screen:

“What? That doesn’t even make any sense. Who wrote this?”

On occasion I do blame the actors but mostly for me its the writers. I mean, don’t say Sara hates the color red and then have her skipping down the street in red platforms. And please don’t overdue the dialogue. The second season of American Horror Story almost lost me, way too much talking going on between the head guy of the catholic mental institution and the demonically possessed Nun (yea, forgot both their names). That season just seemed to be a lot slower than the first one. The writer in me therefore sought to mentally ask the writer what happened. Supernatural on the other hand is totally awesome when it comes to dialogue. I love the conversations between Sam and Dean, the humor that is incorporated into the story, and the carrying out of the roles by the actors. Speaking of awesome, when a TV show is excellent the writer again gets all of my praise. It rarely occurs to me that the actors merely improvised or that the director deleted a scene. In the end, I just can’t help the writers eye. But believe it or not this actually helps me in my own writing. When I write, I like to picture it playing out like a movie. I figure if I picture the story unfolding like a movie, chances are I’ll critique it with the same level of attention. Nope,. doesn’t always work but I still do it. In the same way, when I watch TV shows or movies I sometimes see it as a manuscript. I mean, someone had to write it first… write?