A Raisin in the Sun: A Broadway Revival

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Denzel Washington is riveting as Walter Lee Younger in this recent revival of the classic play, A Raisin in the Sun, written by Lorraine Hansberry. A tribute to the past it is running in the famous Ethel Barrymore Theater in New York City nearly 55 years after its debut in the same theater. The story is based on a black family living in the poor south side of Chicago in the 1950s, whose hopes and dreams are wrapped around a large sum of insurance money inherited after the death of the family’s patriarch.

It can be said that a man doesn’t feel like a man until he’s able to take care of his family in a way the he sees fit. Leading a cast full of complex performances, Washington seems to capture this sentiment as he conveys the in depth struggles Walter Lee has about his manhood. Despite being nearly 20 years the character’s senior, Washington is able to give a credible and dichotomous performance of a man who is desperately clinging onto a sense of idealism that has been crippled with bitterness after years of constant disappointment.

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LaTanya Richardson Jackson reels you in as matriarch, Lena Younger. A staple on Broadway stages, Jackson commands the audience’s attention as she masterfully balances Lena’s proclivity to use wit as a means of getting her point across with her ability to offer her frank assessments of life. Oscar-nominated Sophie Okonedo gives a brilliant performance as Walter Lee’s aloof wife, Ruth, who is so focused on tending to the needs of others, that she forgets to tend to her own.

Another Broadway regular, Anika Noni Rose, is excellent as Walter Lee’s precocious and ambitious younger sister Beneatha Younger. Rose leads her character through an identity crisis as she attempts to combat the rising cynicism that seemingly tries to suffocate her in the same way that it does her brother. Rounding out the outstanding cast in supporting roles are Sean Patrick Thomas (as African national, Joseph Asagai), Bryce Clyde Jenkins (as Walter Lee’s 10 year-old son, Travis) and Jason Dirden (as black elite George Murchison).

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Anticipating the arrival of their windfall, members of the Younger family have conflicting ideas on what to do with it. Walter Lee ambitiously wants to use the money to start his own business as the owner of a liquor store. Beneatha, wrought by her own ambitions, has dreams of becoming a doctor. Lena and Ruth both share the idea of purchasing a modest house they can call their own. As the family struggles with this dilemma, Lorraine Hansberry is able to demonstrate the complexities that come with being poor and black in America. Although this classic is based off a family living in the 1950s, it is still relevant for some black families today who deal with issues of race, class, cultural and personal identity.

A Raisin in the Sun, starring Oscar winner Denzel Washington, is playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theater until June 15, 2014. For tickets visit this website

Tamara Jenkins is a real Jersey girl. She’s independent, opinionated, and loves her sports. When she’s not watching her favorite teams, she’s reading, practicing yoga or working on a few books she hopes will get published one day. She also may or may not be training for a 5k race. With a belief that life is what you make of it, Tamara doesn’t merely want to survive life; she wants to live it.

Black Hollywood History

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Celebrities in Black Hollywood are on fire! This talented class of artists continue to perfect their craft and fight for recognition among their peers.  African Americans undoubtedly contribute their creativity to the entertainment of the world. But, before modern day superstars there were great musicians and actors that paved the way – making it possible for us to enjoy the sensations we all know as household names. Cheers to African American entertainment greats in music, television, and film!

Music

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Music

Before musical icons such as Beyonce, Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson topped the charts there were a host of African American artists who paved the way with their music talents. We may be used to these aformentioned artists toping the charts but when Rock & Roll, Jazz, and Blues were king artists such as The Platters broke racial barriers as the first to reach the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for their song “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” in 1958.  Proceeding them were the Mills Brothers “Paper Doll” in 1943 as the first African AMerican artists to hit #1 on the Billboard charts and in 1950 Nat King Cole become the first African American solo singer to have a #1 hit on the Billboard charts for his song, “Mona Lisa.”
Perhaps the biggest accolade of any musician, is a Grammy win. Though modern day couple Beyonce and hubby Jay Z are two of the leading African Americans with the most Grammy wins, in 1959 Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie became the first African-American Grammy Award winners. Ella won Best Female Vocal Performance for “But Not For Me” and Best Individual Jazz Performance for “Ella Swings Lightly.” For his role as a musical composer in the film Duke won two Grammys for Best Sound Track Album – Background Score from a motion picture and Best Musical Composition.
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Television

Many of us love leading ladies such as Kerry Washington and Gabrielle Union of Scandal and Being Mary Jane respectively. Their shows and talent have won accolades during this award season but before HD, DVR, and Internet television, African American actors paved the way for these lovelies to shine on the silver screen.  In 1939, Ethel Waters became the first African to star in her own television show, The Ethel Waters Show which aired on NBC.  Bob Howard was the first African American to star in a regularly scheduled network television series, The Bob Howard Show in 1948. That same year Amanda Randolph starred in the television show, The Laytons. Several years later, before his widely known success on The Cosby Show, Bill Cosby became the first African American to star in a network drama, I Spy, for which he would later be the first African American male to be nominated for and win a Primetime Emmy Award.

As a television actor, winning an Emmy is a golden moment where you are recognized by peers for your talent and artistry. Before Halle Berry, Lauretta Divine, and even Bill Cosby won their awards, African American actors proceeding them paved the way. Notably, Diahann Carroll was the first African American to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series in 1969. She was nominated for her role in Julia in which she became the first African American to play lead in a role outside of being a domestic. She won a Golden Globe for this same performance. Later, in 1979 Ester Rolle became the first African American and person to win an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries.

Film

2013 marked an incredible year for Black films such as Fruitvale Station, 12 Years a Slave, and Mandella. Before big time actors such as Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Idris Elba, and Halle Berry commanded millions of dollars for their Blockbuster and award winning films, African American cinema stars years before led the way. Ethel Waters was a prominent actress with roles in such films as Pinky. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee led the way for power couple movie stars like Will and Jada with their decades of film success. Remarkably, not only have African American actors blazed trails in their roles in front of the camera but also behind the scene. Before independent directors such as newcomer Ryan Coogler, or veterans such as John Singleton, and Spike Lee there was Oscar Micheaux. Widely credited as the first African American director, Micheaux made his cinematic debut with the silent film production of his famed book, Homesteaders in 1919. Before there was Tyler Perry Studios, Oscar founded the  Micheaux Film and Book Company to independently produce his own feature films and books.

The success of a movie star is crystalized by recognition from the Academy Award. Denzel Washington and Halle Berry  both made history with their 2001 Oscar wins. Before these greats were African American actors whose performances demanded the attention and recognition of the Academy.  In 1940, Hattie McDaniel was the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in her role in the 1939 classic film, Gone with the Wind. In 1954 Dorothy Dandridge became the first African American women to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Carmen Jones. Halle Berry would later win an Emmy, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild Award for her role as Dorothy Dandridge. Sidney Poitier won an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1964 for his role in Lilies of the Field. During Denzel Washington’s own Oscar acceptance speech he stated about Poitier, “I’ll always be following in your footsteps, there is nothing I would rather do.”

Flight

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Denzel Washington delivers yet another riveting performance as Captain Whitaker, the swagged-out pilot who soars by day and parties hard by night. The film opens with an introduction into the troubling side of Captain Whitaker and leads us into the day and life of this pilot; proving the choices we make in private, can have major impacts on our life.

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Intense anticipation – the words to describe Flight. In the beginning of the film the audience is intently trying to figure out the plot. With two concurrent plot lines, one can only wait for the connection. While Captain Whitaker has trouble in the sky, we are introduced to Nicole’s haunted addiction—played by actress Kelly Reily of the UK. Though the two live different lives, their vices cause catastrophe for them both, leading this unlikely romantic couple to cross paths.  

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“Break for impact.” As Captain Whitaker’s plane crashes, his and Nicole’s stories begin to merge, representing the moment when you have done all you can and the rest is up to the Creator. When Captain Whitaker and Nicole wake up, they must deal with the aftermath of their addictions; finding help and solace in each other.  

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Comedic relief and perhaps one of the most profound moments comes from a patient who is near the end of life, “death gives you perspective…this feeling I have now, every moment is priceless…” pockets of wisdom and encouragement. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stick with Captain Whitaker. As the story moves along he continues to spiral downhill while legal troubles threaten his freedom and legacy.

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Don Cheadle delivers an awesome performance playing Hugh Lang, Whitaker’s savvy and supportive lawyer; alongside Whitaker’s longtime friend Charlie Anderson, played by Bruce Greenwood. Despite Lang and Anderson’s efforts to help Whitaker kick his habit, legal troubles, and maintain his job security, Whitaker proves substances and pain can endure despite impending disaster.

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Fraught with anger, frustration, and sadness, I intensely went through the highs and lows of Whitaker’s addiction. From losing loved ones, to his career, and himself, he suffered. While the ending was quite a shock, accompanied by disappointment, and admittedly pissed me off, this movie was wrought with a realness that purposefully left audiences with intense emotional reactions. One thing is for sure, this movie showed the difficulties of overcoming addiction for all those involved. It also gave hope that in the last hour, one may dig deep inside and find that last bit of strength to overcome. All it takes is one step to change your lifetime.
Perhaps my favorite moment comes with the question, “Who are you?” The beauty of overcoming adversity is when you are asked such a question, because you have faced the deepest and darkest of yourself, you finally have an answer.
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