Marilyn 50 years later
It has been 50 years since the death of the America's sex goddess, Marilyn Monroe. I have always had a special place in my spirit for Marilyn Monroe because when I was growing up she was the only celebrity who I knew, who had a mother with a mental illness and who thrived. She was an inspiration to me of sorts even with her well-publicized setbacks. When I went to college, I had several of her pictures of her on my wall but no one knew why, I didnt share my family painful experience of mental illness and the damaging effects it has on a family's structure. I assumed people believed I wanted to look like her or I had some great admiration for her. Having a strong sense of pride, while I thought Marilyn was a beautiful woman I had no desire to look like her, though I have emulated some her flirtations, they are effective.
We also shared some other histories in our background, that I won't go into on this post but they gave me a unique understanding of what obstacles she faced and conqured in those short 36 years. The other nite while buying groceries in Fort Greene, I saw a magazine highlighting her death and all her scandals. There is a whole industry created on the "tragedy" that is Marilyn Monroe and she is consistently depicted as this breathless idiot, who couldn't take a step without swallowing a pill for confidence.
I never met Marilyn, would have loved to be but she died long before I was born and all I have to know her by are letters, journal entries, endless documentaries and those beautiful pictures that have stood the test of time.
Knowing and understanding a little of her background, one thing is very clear to me, she was no one's idiot and most definitely no one's victim. You do not survive, a children's home (esp in the 20-30's) prior to children's advocacy, while having no family to support you, being a pretty female w/little education and become one of the biggest stars of all time; without a will of steel. I cant even imagine the situations she endured during her childhood, the sexual misconduct that she had to withstand, the inner fortitude it took to be rejected over and over with no means of emotional support to get to that pinnacle. She was one of the first women to have her own production company, Egg Productions, and she lifted weights when women were not supposed to. She dictated her image, her roles, her leading men and she did not die penniless. When she was fired from her last film, for her own misbehavior she sued, won and recieved a pay hike. She took a small role in All About Eve and translated into her own empire. Her challenges with her husbands is they assumed she was coquettish sex goddess, and she was an ambitious shark who wanted her career and intelligence to be honored as well as her body. As the wife of Arthur Miller, he thought she would be her career on hold for him, he was jealous of her production company but as a woman who had always taken care of herself there was no way she would defer her dreams-not even for him. Marilyn Monroe was a woman ahead of her time, she layed the groundwork for Madonna, Janet, Beyonce, Angelina Jolie and on. She illustrated that you can be sexual and ambitious all in the same being. She understood that sexuality is a performance and she was a master at it but it was still just that, a skill not her being. As a woman she struggled to find the person/and or industry that could accept that but they just werent ready. #marilynmonroe #feminism #acting
Journey from Pen to Paper
My journey to become a writer has been a long and circuitous one. I dont know if I ever would official give myself the title of writer exclusively but I definitely have been playing in the literary playground. My initial reason for joining this theater company was to explore directing and writing since I actively have been performing in since my return to New York ( hand to heart with extreme gratitude) When the project for came up in company meeting I shared absolutely no interest. I have never been into the Tudor's or the history of the monarchy.I was one of the few Americans who did not watch the Royal Wedding nor had even the slightest interest. Then when I noticed my name had been listed as a contributing writer to the project, I didnt resist. The process has been one of a collaborative, with the work being created in the rehearsal process, I am personally not a fan of that because of the lack of structure but since my experience is more limited in this area it was an opportunity for me to learn. During the process, I assumed me and my writing partner would just contribute maybe a paragraph or a suggestion here so it seemed benign enough. After a couple of weeks, one of the actors asked if and I had any text for them. Initally I was quite surprised, I had no idea I was expected to create actual dialogue. I was nervous, this was out of my realm of experience primarily burgeoning as a slam poet. I spoke to one of my acting buddies, who insisted that I take part in this project. My writing partner and I have had no previous working relationship, actually no relationship of any kind and we were expected to take this information that had been collected and create something from it. We had our intial meeting and we realized we really had no information. We talked about writing prompts and I lead the improv work in two rehearsals. Then we came back and miraculously we actual began to work together. For many who do this all the time, this is probably routine but for myself I was actually shocked how it all sort of came together in a slow unraveling. He is extremely laid back to my Native New York neurosis so, ( at least for me) it had made for an enjoyable writing experience. I know understand Richard Rogers only do one project alone, there is something great about collaborating with another, it makes you more confident in your own abilities, ironically enough. Also, it is very time consuming, each monolgue we have written takes time. Understanding the character, how they speak, thier experiences, thier influence and remaining consistent. When you have two people bringing that together, the time can just get eaten up. After almost 4 hours completing the first 3 of 7 monologues and thier death sentences, he sent them to the group for review. We were expecting notes, comments about why some things were omitted etc. That is the process of collaboration but when I recieved a video with pieces of text being moved and lines where speeches were supposed to be I was a little numb at first. Then nhe and I got together for the next 4 monologues and we have spent another 4 hours churning these out, I see another email from another part of the team and the lines are even in a more chaotic fashion, I am disturbed. All of a sudden a light went off in my head, I understand why writers have protection, now I understand intellectual property. To see the work you have spent hours on changed into something else entirely is difficult to witness. When you are not getiing financial compensation, it becomes almost pointless. Where the journey will take me from here, I dont know but it has been a true learning experience. My fellow sister and lover of words, Sophia suggested I put this experience on paper. It has been an unexpected my necessary journey in my development. Who would believe at this point in my life, I would still be learning new things but here we go again!
Whitney Houston the name conjures up all sorts of images and memories. Classy, diva, anointed singing voice, pain, tragedy, irresponsibility and sadly junkie. Truthfully, no one is one thing or another, we are a combination of our experiences. In the discussion of feminism- looking through the lens of male privilege, the struggle of female/feminine equality, discussion is critical and a prime example witht the pairing of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown.
This was a relationship ripe for the tabloid fodder. The beautiful American princess shacked up with music's bad boy. The sexual tension births illusions of illicit rendezvous and passionate arguments. This combined with a history of long term drug dependency it becomes Wilsonian in it's tragedy. After all the stories, interviews and commentary it is clear that Whitney Houston was not a victim, she was culpable in the downfall of her career and image. She was an international musical superstar who wielded an extraordinary amount of power that translated into over 100 million records sold and the highest-selling single of all time. What is also clear to me is that Whitney is indicative of the powerful women syndrome and most importantly the Black female/Baby Boy dynamic. John Singleton 2000 film "Baby Boy" is a slept on as a piece of social commentary and popular culture coming together. I refer to that film so often because it is a painfully accurate depiction of an epidemic in our community. The refusal of some grown black men to take responsibility for their behavior and it's consequences then relying and/or blaming black women for being stymied. Often you will find black mothers that encourage support this arrested development.
Feminism is currently seen as a retro movement connoting images of burning bras and opening our own doors. Through popular mainstream media i.e. male dominated/dictated journalism it is basically archaic. Referenced only when a man doesn't want to pay for the first date or wants to initiate a non-committal sexual liason.
Unfortunately in the black community especially the heterosexual black community it is nearly non-existent hidden beneath the need for black liberation and equality. Many women feel forced to choose between being a woman or being black ( which by the way is ridiculous). In many ways third world communities suffers at a greater rate of insidious sexism pervasive in mainstream hip-hop, popular female black pop stars , black romantic comedies, literature, clothing and the relationship of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown.
I thought about my community's relationship to feminism after watching #OWN's Next Chapter with Gloria Steinam. I was embarrased as a women's studies minor to not be familiar with any of the black women she referenced as being important in the struggle for Women's equality but familiar with all the white women. In addition, after reading about Bobby Brown upcoming interview with Matt Lauer to clear his name, I became slightly incensed. Bobby Brown who is now engaged, finds the need to clear his name after writing a tell-all book in 2007 about thier union. To let the whole world know how he didnt get Whitney Houston hooked on drugs but that she introduced the "hard drugs" to him. Now while I question the accuracy of that memory, I ponder at some of the elements of thier union.
Whitney Houston created every inch of her fame. She sang at every event, till drugs took it's toll, she produced successful family friendly movies like The Princess Diaries & Cinderella, successful albums and mentored the careers of young female artists. She brought gospel music to a mainstream pop audience using her commericial appeal. She created a legacy that will live long after her physical form for many decades to come.
Alternately, Bobby Brown a member of the successful group "New Edition" spawned a successful solo career with the smash "My Prerogative" that launched him into superstardom. By the time they were married, his hits were behind him. During thier marriage he was arrested several times, served time in jail, claims of infidelity were rampant, embarrassed her at public events, the reality show "Being Bobby Brown" which destroyed her image was at his insistence, she financed his child support payments and even the article in the National Enquirer about her drug -ridden bathroom was a photo taken by his sibling. The first reunion tour he attempted with New Edition in the 90's was successful but he left before it was finished because of inconsistent behavior.
Whitney during their union starred in 3 successful movies, "Waiting to Exhale","Preacher's Wife" and the mega hit "The Bodyguard". The latter resulting in one of the biggest selling albums of all time, the biggest selling single of all time & Preacher's Wife the biggest selling gospel album of all time. After their divorce , she attended his mother's funeral without incident, no publicity photo ops and even sang at the service. When he attended her funeral , he created a disruption that made newspaper headlines and yet again brought attention to the mistreated /misunderstood poor Bobby Brown.
Honestly, I do not know the intimate details of their relationship and that information will remain between her spirit and his memories.
As a black woman from the outside looking in, it's disturbing to see the coddling and infantile behavior that is allowed and not commented on.
There were black women after her death, commenting about "leave Bobby alone", he didnt cause her pain. I say, "Who cares about him'???
This was about her death, the loss of her talent to the world. Even after her untimely death at 48, she leaves the remake "Sparkle" that showcases younger, female talent who have been influenced by her trained, vocal talent.
She struggled for 10 years to get this film produced and put on the major screen which will have a summer release. While Bobby Brown's latest effort is another New Edition reunion tour and granting interviews to clear his name. Does he take this opportunity to honor the woman who supported his children, defended him even during his infidelities, who shared his name on her production company-BrownHouse Productions and remained his friend till the end? Nope, like a child he concerns himself with his name and his new engagement.
In the name of defending our black men we sacrifice our feminine powers. If Whitney Houston had not fallen victim to being a "beautiful celebrity junkie" ( and possibly homophobia) maybe she would have seen the folly of her union. Not just because of her incredible fame but for a woman who's presence brought so much to the world of entertainment , she would have honored her own creativity and tenacity. She would have listened to her Spirit and knew she needed a partner who -regardless of gender-that understood and supported her growth. When your honored with a gift like that, it is beyond your own physical needs and it becomes a mission that could potentially fulfill a higher calling. She would seek someone who encouraged the spiritual and physical health, fought against her fundamental darkness and looked for spiritual light.
Whitney may have died thinking she was no more than a great voice of yesteryear. As a opposed to an accomplished, intelligent artistic powerhouse who's voice influenced the musical landscape, and who was also tragically fallible . We will never know.
An Actor/Director sharing her thoughts on creativity in this crazy metropolis, New Yawk Citay.