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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

May I Help You? Dealing With Racism in the Service Sector

The next time you’re at the register in a store, the teller window of a bank, or the front desk of a hotel take a good look at the person behind the counter. Chances are you’ll rarely ever see a Black male working there.

When it comes to service jobs that require public interaction, Black males are the least likely to be hired even if they meet the qualifications to fill the job. Positions like receptionist, administrative assistant, sales rep, and customer service rep are often filled by a White woman, Black woman, Hispanic woman, Asian woman, Hispanic male, or males of other ethnicities.

So why don’t we see more Black men at the front desk? A little bit of sexism and a whole lot of racism. Most managers regardless of race are extremely uncomfortable with a Black male at their front desk as the “face” that represents their company. They believe that the sight of a black male at the service desk is detrimental to business and can possibly scare off customers, while a woman or male from another ethnic group in the same position would make the public feel more relaxed and comfortable.

While there are a few Black males (myself included) who have found work at the front desk in service positions, they often received no support from management once on the job. Instead of feeling “welcomed” during the first few weeks while adjusting to the new workplace, many Black men encounter a work environment that is distant and tense. Mangers have often shown new Black male employees they aren’t welcome with actions such as not introducing them to senior staff or co-workers in critical positions, explaining company policies, and telling subordinate employees to disregard the new employee’s instructions. The unwritten message co-workers in the workplace receive that the Black male has no real authority in his new job and is not going to be around long-term.

Other actions managers take to show black male employees they aren’t welcome include taking severe disciplinary action against them. Black men in service workplaces are often threatened with reprimands, write-ups or termination for minor mistakes that females or males of other ethnic groups would not be punished for. Such harsh discipline creates an unrealistic double standard for judging a black man’s work as compared to everyone else’s; the message is he has to work twice as hard to get half as far as everyone else. It also makes black men feel that they aren’t a part of a “team” and won’t be able to “fit in” the workplace.

In addition to a lack of support from management, Black males at the front desk have to deal with passive-aggressive behavior from their co-workers. Many Black men have stated while trying to communicate with co-workers and supervisors they have encountered defensive body language, indifferent responses, or treated with hostility when asking simple questions about work related tasks. Other passive-aggressive behaviors Black men have encountered from co-workers included company policies not being clearly explained, memos not being delivered to their desk, and documents becoming “lost”. With most service positions requiring constant communication between co-workers, these actions make it nearly impossible for a Black male to do their jobs effectively.

Black men also deal with resistance from customers in front of the counter as well. Many customers of numerous ethnicities are more willing and eager to complain about perceived harsh treatment, attitude or rude service when served by a Black male at the counter than if they received actual harsh treatment from a woman or male from another ethnicity. Other customers have complained of hard tone or hostility on the phone with a Black male customer service rep or receptionist. Moreover, some customers perceive the facial expressions and body language of black men as angry, surly, or menacing, when they approach them to ask for assistance. Other customers perceived themselves as being in danger and are actually afraid to approach black male employees at the counter and the sales floor.

This hostile and racist environment within the service workplace creates a “self-fulfilling prophecy” where Black men are unable to perform the basic tasks of their jobs. Because Black men are judged by unrealistic double standards from managers and encounter resistant actions by co-workers they become frustrated and resign after only a few months on the job. Other Black males who try to persevere are terminated for minor infractions and have their work records unfairly tarnished. This turnover creates a false perception in society that Black males are poor employees. However, this is far from the truth. Most Black males don’t perform well in service positions due to institutionally racist policies, cultural adhesion to sexist and racist gender roles in employment, a lack of support from management and co-workers, and prejudices from the public.

So how is this workplace racism detrimental to Black males and employment? With the service sector being fastest growing area of the economy in the United States over the last twenty years, oftentimes these are the only jobs available in urban areas that pay livable wages. With most service positions in the inner-city oftentimes filled by Black females, Hispanic females or Hispanic and men of other ethnicities, this discrimination leads to the disproportionate unemployment of Black men. In some urban areas the unemployment rate of Black males is close to 60 percent while the unemployment rate for other minorities (especially by gender) is significantly lower.

I’ve been employed in numerous service jobs since 1994 and over the years I’ve noticed a pattern in how minorities were placed in jobs and how Black men were treated in the workplace. From my observations over the years I noticed that Black men worked out of sight in the back, other minorities and females of color in the front regardless of education or work experience. At hiring pools, women of color and males of other ethnicities with the same qualifications were hired before Black men for a front-desk or administrative support position.

When I was placed in those rare front-end service jobs like the receptionist’s desk or at the circulation desk of a library, I was met with tremendous resistance from just about everyone. I often wondered if it was racism; looking back at my experiences now I’m pretty sure. It’s clear most people aren’t comfortable with the idea of a Black man in certain positions in the workplace, and that has to change. It’s time brothas started discussing the racist, sexist, and discriminatory actions of employers within the service sector and how it’s holding us back in our careers.

The Retirement of Amanda Bynes

I was really shocked when I read Amanda Bynes stated she was retiring from acting at 24. I was sure I’d be seeing much more of her work onscreen in the future. Unfortunately, that won’t be the case and that’s going to be a huge loss for everyone.

With the retirement of Bynes, Hollywood has lost one of it’s the best performers. A talented comedienne, a solid actress, and a consummate professional who lived a clean life on and off the set. Honing her skills over the past fifteen years, in sitcoms, sketch comedy and feature films, Bynes developed perfect comic timing and a strong screen presence. She always gave strong performances with a lot of heart and passion.

It’s an understatement to say liked Amanda’s work; I never missed an episode of What I Like About You and even saw some of her movies like Lovewrecked and She’s The Man. She was a delight to watch onscreen and I was sure I’d be hearing her acceptance speech on Oscar night in a few years. She was that good. I always felt it was a matter of when she’d find that breakout project and take her career to the next level.

While her reasons for leaving acting are her own, I understand that she’s making the right decision for herself. It’s better for her to move forward and discover what makes her happy rather than stay in a career she isn’t satisfied with. After reading about so many tragic ends for child stars while doing my research for All About Marilyn, it’s great to hear about a former child actor leaving the entertainment industry on her own terms rather than in a body bag.

So why am I writing about Amanda Bynes and not someone more popular say like, Michael Jackson or Gary Coleman? Well Amanda’s work onscreen inspired me to write. When I was writing All About Marilyn, Amanda’s high-strung performances inspired me to create the Tabatha Strong character. When I was writing her, I heard Bynes’ “voice” as Tabatha.

For those who think I’m colorstruck: If Salli Richardson were to retire from acting, she’d be getting a blog post too. And a much longer one at that. Her work had an even bigger impact on my influencing my writing; her performances inspired three characters in four different books.

Amanda Bynes probably won’t ever read this, but I’d like to thank her for entertaining me these past few years and inspiring my writing. Maybe if I’m lucky there will be a chance to see her work again.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

All About Casting

Okay, let’s say hypothetically I get a chance to actually make an All About Marilyn movie tomorrow. Who would best fit what roles? Who would be the best director? Well this is who I’d like to see in the major roles along with runner-ups based on the performers available now.

NOTE: This is FANTASY CASTING. No parts are offered nor is this a REAL film in production!

Salli Richardson Whitfield as Marilyn Marie: Richardson is the most underrated black actress in the business today. Better in her craft than Halle Berry, Angela Bassett, Queen Latifah, ANYONE. From what I’ve seen in her work on Gargoyles, Eureka, and films like Black Dynamite, I am Legend, Posse, Never 2 Big and How U Like Me Now, I know she has the skills to play Marilyn Marie. Richardson conveys a tremendous amount of emotion and humanity onscreen and would perfectly present Marilyn’s inner strength and emotional vulnerability onscreen. Richardson has a mesmerizing screen presence that keeps viewers eyes glued to the screen, this sista is so strong onscreen she can effortlessly carry a movie from beginning to end the same way Superman carries a battleship to port. In my eyes she’s only been one role away from being a superstar. Could Marilyn be it? I believe so. I think audiences would connect with her as an older, washed-up Marilyn, and she’d be incredibly effective in portraying Marilyn’s transformation from faded starlet to human being. Another plus is that Richardson has an active interest in fitness and nutrition, a strong body, something required for playing Marilyn.

Runner up #2 Regina King. Another former child star from 227, she’s evolved as an actress with amazing set of skills in films like How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Ray. I believe she’d play a strong Marilyn with a tremendous humanity and compassion. AAM would be a great role to add to her already impressive resume; Marilyn is a strong leading role and there’s a lot of room for her to show her solid acting range. I also feel Marilyn would be an impressive vehicle to show studio executives that she could carry a movie on her own. The only things keeping out of the lead is whether or not she’d do the required nudity for the role.

Runner up: #3 Tia Mowry. Tia has shown she’s grown as an actress since her “Sister Sister” days. Her work on The Game is some of her best work of her career. On that show’s fourth season she’s shown the start of an amazing range, and I believe the role of Marilyn Marie would allow her to take her skills to the next level. As a former child star grown up, I believe she has experiences to draw on that would allow her to give a powerful performance. The only thing keeping her out the lead role is whether or not she’d do the nudity required for the role. She’d be a sleeper in this role; I feel she’d surprise everyone and make them re-think who she is as an actress. I believe AAM could be her Big, the breakthrough role that shows she has what it takes for playing more dramatic parts.

Stockard Channing as Sabrina Lowenstein: As I was writing Marilyn, I used to hear Channing’s voice as Sabrina, so I’m kinda biased on this one. But I can tell you from watching her work on The West Wing and Six Degrees of Separation and The Stockard Channing Show on YouTube she has the elegance and grace to play Sabrina as tough and crusty but sensitive and soft at the same time. I feel she’d have amazing chemistry with King or Richardson onscreen; it’d be something incredible to watch either of these seasoned veterans onscreen with a master like Channing. I’d also pay money to see if Mowry had developed the skills to hold her own with one of the best actresses in the game.

Runner up: Meryl Streep. Okay I’m really REALLY dreaming here. But come on, Meryl Streep and Salli Richardson- Meryl Streep and Regina King working togehter? People would pay money and then some to see either of these two onscreen! (People would also pay money just to see if Tia Mowry could hold her own with this seasoned veteran!) Streep is incredible onscreen and she’d play Sabrina effortlessly. The only thing keeping her out of the role in my eyes is whether or not she’d be able to effectively have chemistry with Richardson or King.

Pauley Perette as Ava Gardner: Sure she’s 40-something but she doesn’t look a day past 27. Perette would be a blast as the glib, fast-talking administrative assistant “agent in training” who sells Marilyn into a tragic turn of life-changing events then weasels her way out of it with a smile.

Runner up: Sara Rue: Sara Rue would be a perfect Ava; she showed a lot of spark in Less Than Perfect and looks like she’d be a convincing administrative assistant. The only drawback: Would the audience accept sugary sweet Sara Rue as a manipulative conniving cutthroat businesswoman trying to steal her boss’ clients?

Salma Hayek as Lucia Baretto: Hayek’s work in Frieda speaks for itself. I feel she’d effectively play an intelligent compassionate woman with humanity and a sense of humor. Since Lucia is a dressed down church counselor for most of the film, it’d be a great role for her to show her acting range instead of her assets.

Runner up: America Fererra Fererra’s work on Ugly Betty and films like Real Women Have Curves and The Sisterhood of the Traveling pants shows she is a strong performer in lead and supporting roles. I believe she has what it takes to play Lucia as an intelligent compassionate Latina with humanity and a sense of humor. Nothing really holding Fererra back, she’s so great she’s in neck-and neck competition with Hayek (her former boss on Ugly Betty) for this supporting role.

Regina King as Shayla Sims: Another former child star from 227, She’s evolved as an actress with amazing set of skills with roles films like How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Ray. I see a great intelligence in her that fits a college professor like Dr. Sims. I also see a great sense of humor in her that would allow her to effectively play off any actress who played Marilyn and convey a sense of long-term friendship.

Runner up: Snaa Lathan I love Snaa’s work! Nuff said.

Amanda Bynes as the adult Tabatha Strong: It’d be a change of pace for Bynes who is used to playing sweet sugary roles. However I believe playing a crazed, meth addled insecure starlet would surprise everyone and show the long acting range I know she has. Like former child stars Mowry and Fererra, she has a lot of personal experience to draw on for the role. Comedy actors are often better in dramas and I feel Tabatha is the kind of role that would allow Bynes to breakthrough to more serious roles the same way Tom Hanks and Robin Williams did.

Gene Hackman as Hiram Silverstien: Sure he’s retired, but no one plays smarmy douche better than Gene Hackman; dude should have his face on a bottle of Massengil or Summer’s Eve. Watch Crimson Tide, The Sting Superman, anything he’s been in he’d be perfect as a racist, misogynistic fast talking slick Hollywood executive.

Jason Alexander as Martin Rosenthal: No smarmy Hollywood exec would be without his pet lawyer and no one would be a better one than Jason Alexander. He’d be great to watch as butt-kissing toadie!

Reggie Hayes as Dr. Ellis: He was great as a lawyer on Girlfriends, and I think he’d have a great bedside manner as the doctor who helps Marilyn during her stay in the hospital.

Keenan, Damon, Kim and Marlon Wayans as the G-town Productions crew: These guys would be awesome to watch as casting directors of the low budget prodco who roast Marilyn crispy. I definitely would love to see Marlon as Kwon; even more eager to see what they’d do with improv in this scene.

Heidi Lenhart and Kelly Packard as Natalie and Holly: These two former California Dreamers would be perfect to play a pair of rich California blondes who give Marilyn a hassle at the gym. I admit I’m biased in casting here: It was Heidi Lenhart’s performances in first season episodes of California Dreams I watched that inspired to create the Marilyn Marie character and the premise for this story.

Debra Jo Rupp as Lori. Many remember her as “Kitty Forman” on that 70’s show. I remember her as the evil office manager in Clockwatchers tearing Parker Posey a new one. I feel she’d be perfect as a snobby co-op board president who uses her position and power to crush a faded starlet. (SPOILER!)

Tahj Mowry as Adam the Clown: It’d be a nice change of pace to see the grown up smart guy playing a wide-eyed wisecracking, young ambitious Hollywood kid looking for his break. Mowry is a solid performer and I think he has the range to play this major supporting role as Marilyn’s last fan. (SPOILER!)

Wesley Jonathan as Garrett Williams: Wesley Jonathan is another teen/child star from back in the day. I feel he’d be solid in both the early sequences supporting role as a young black ambitious PA and later as a man who grows up into a director working on his dream project. Again I’m biased; I used to hear Jonathan’s voice when I was writing Garrett character.

Runner Up: Jaleel White Everyone knows Jaleel White was Urkel on Family Matters. But what many don’t know is that he has grown up to become a writer, producer and director. White would be perfect for Garrett and would have a boatload of experience to draw from. The only thing holding him back ironically: URKEL!

Robert Gillaume as Professor Chris Cherry: A seasoned veteran performer, Giaullme would play a professor Cherry with grace, intelligence and warmth. It’d be fun to see how any lead actress would hold their own with him.

Michael Ealy as Eric James: Ealy has a down to earth presence which would work great for Marilyn’s love interest. He’s a solid actor who’d be a great asset to any cast Doesn’t hurt that he’s easy on the eyes for the ladies. Besides, light skinned brothas haven’t gotten any love since 86’!

Runner Up: Anthony Anderson: Anderson also is incredibly versatile and very underrated, I’ve checked out his comedy and drama work and I think it’d be great to see him as a love interest; something we haven’t seen from him before.

Director: Debbie Allen Debbie Allen is one of the best black female directors in the business. Stage, Screen and Television she has the skills; to make a solid Marilyn production. With a track record of turned the struggling sitcom A Different World around 20 years ago and has directing The recent musical version of The Color Purple and A Rasin in the Sun, I know she’d effectively translate what I wrote into pictures onscreen. She’d be very sensitive to the issue of black women in Hollywood; I think she’d put a lot of passion and heart into an All About Marilyn production.

Runner up#1 : Denzel Washington. All About Marilyn is written with a very unique art style that utilizes contrasting visuals and symbolic imagery, and complex three-dimensional characters. After watching Washington’s Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters, I’m very confident that Denzel Washington’s lens could effectively tell Marilyn’s story. Washington has shown a great sensitivity and humanity towards African-Americans in his films; this is a crucial component to Marilyn’s story. I also have great confidence that Washington would play up the Christian undertones without being too preachy.

Runner Up#2: Spike Lee. One of the best directors of the 20th Century, All About Marilyn is a script tailor made for Spike Lee’s camera. I know Spike Lee would make a beautiful Marilyn film that features contrasting visuals and symbolic imagery I designed. I also have faith that he’d develop the characters into complex three dimensional people full of humanity. Watching Lee’s work in Bamboozled I believe he’d brilliantly tell a story about Marilyn onscreen without compromising the integrity of the script. Another Plus is that Lee is a Native New Yorker like myself and he would shoot the New York in such a way that it’d come alive and build into the powerful climax.

The only thing keeping Lee out of the director’s chair in my eyes is his past misogyny towards black women. Girl 6 speaks volumes about his contempt for black women. Marilyn is a movie about the struggles of black actress behind the camera, and requires a filmmaker to have a sensitivity towards the sisters and their struggles.

Yeah, I’m choosing a lot of underrated performers, former child stars, and B and C and even D list actors. Would they work together well onscreen? I don’t know. However, I feel the best performers don’t come from the A-list. I feel that the B, C and D listers can show something once given the shot at a lead roles. Yesterday’s supporting role is today’s lead star.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Isis Action Figures!

(okay not actual action figures, just OOAK customs. But a brotha can dream...)
All images and designs Copyright(c) and TM 2000-2010 Shawn James

Way, way, way back in 2002 I was quite passionate about my first published book Isis. So passionate I had plans for action figures. Looking back at the merchandise I designed I was a little overzealous.

These crude custom action figures were my interpretations (yours may vary when you read the book) of what the main characters Isis and E’steem looked like. I did my best to maintain the spirit of my sketches as I translated the designs I drew into three dimensions.

Isis is made from an X-men the movie 2-pack Movie Storm.I went with the Movie Storm because back then because I thought Halle Berry would make a good Isis (Then I saw Catwoman and changed my mind). The head was shaved and re-rooted with Autumn Brown Curly Hair. The kilt and blouse were sewn from an old shirt. Gauntlet bracelets were a metrocard, epoxy putty and painted over with chrome nail polish.

Concept sketches and final product. (Note the shirt was changed to a more conservative design)

E’steem was the Storm from that 2-pack and some Famous Covers Psylocke feet. I chose that figure because-well-it was there. The head was shaved and re-rooted with black hair. Strangely, once rooted with black hair it looked kinda like the actress who inspired E’steem, Salli Richardson-Whitfield (E’steem always sounds like Salli Richardson when I’m writing her). Eyes were re-painted, along with finger and toenails. Horns were sculpted from epoxy putty. A dress was made from an old T-shirt.

More concept sketches and final product. Those Horns they are a changin! (mostly cause Shawn can’t sculpt for crap) Oh yeah, the paint has REALLY faded on this one; it’s over eight years old. The sketches are ten years old. I’m so ever expedient!

I also made a “deluxe” Final Battle E’steem a few years later using the same recipe but with a pair of Annhilus wings from Marvel Legends screwed in the back.

This figure has a HUGE 24" Wingspan! It was hard to get it all in the photograph!

No Concept sketch on this one. Designed it from an idea in my head. Used a new paint and drybrush/wash techniques on Final Battle Esteem; that’s why her fleshtone matches her head!

Also a deluxe "Modern Age" Isis in her "black costume from a concept sketch:

I thought they were cool when I made them and they still reside atop my bookcase with display copies of my novels.

I still get asked if I’d make a Cassandra Lee (with Muffin) or a Marilyn Marie (CENSORED) to join the goddesses, but it ain’t gonna happen. I’ve since outgrown doing stuff like this for my books.

But I have to wonder if people would the pepople who bought the book buy Isis action figures If I were able to have them mass produced?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Article on Me In Monroe College Weekly Observer

An article featuring me and my books is in the Monroe College Weekly Observer on page 2.

After you check that out, gaze your eyes on this horror:

A rare candid photo of me at home writing.

I'm working on a Big Isis article which will feature concept sketches, art and TOYS! Yep, I made some custom Isis action figures a long time ago and I finally want to share them with the people who read this blog.