This ‘7 Questions’ is a bit different. I came across a blog called Blackadelic Pop….don’t remember how I found it. But the words and imagery were so wonderful, that it inspired me to come out of my cave and write again. I received some comments and emails that stated how wonderful the blog was too. I thought to myself “dang, that brother should try to write for a living”.
Little did I know that he not only writes, he writes his ass off! haha…Michael A. Gonzales has written books essays, and articles for the likes of MTV, BET, Spin, The Village Voice, Essence, Entertainment Weekly, the New York Press, Post, Daily News and Metro, and more. Check out what this talented brother had to say on several Black Cinema subjects.
I know that you are pretty much a music writer, but what films have had the greatest impact in your life, both past and present? If you could write to the world about one film, what would it be?
MG: Films have always been a big part of my life as well as a part of my creative process. If I’m stuck while writing an article, short story or my novel, I’ll put in a movie to get the juices flowing. Being a native New Yorker, directors Spike Lee, Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese are my cinematic holy trinity. Still, I am a fan of many genres and styles. This might be cheating, but if I had to write to the world about two films they would be Annie Hall and Mo’ Better Blues—both New York stories that document the ups and down of being an artist in this crazy city of mine.
What book or other media form do you think would make a great Black film? Do you agree with the sentiment that a lot of the readers here have that Hollywood should start making films that are not specifically “Black”, but all types of stories and subject matters that just happen to have a black cast?
MG: I read this cool book last year by Martha Southgate called Third Girl from the Left about three generations of women and their relation to movies; I’d love to see that. I would love if some cutting edge animator created a feature film based on the Parliament-Funkadelic album covers of Pedro Bell and Overton Lloyd. As much as I like the urban camp of Beat Street and Krush Groove, I’d love to see a film about hip-hop that was as powerful as Citizen Kane.
My problem with some younger culture writers is that they limit themselves by not reading more, seeing different kinds of films or opening themselves up to different experiences. If you want to write about hip-hop and R&B, that’s cool, but you should read up on jazz, old school soul, punk, etc. I’m not saying you should be an expert, but as a music writer you should know the difference between Monk, Miles and The Clash.
My good friend Barry Michael Cooper, who wrote New Jack City and Sugar Hill [and I] often have these discussions about where we want black film to go. Both of us are influenced by David Lynch, but don’t bet on Hollywood ever investing in a Black director with that kind of bizarro vision.
Barry has been experimenting with film and different technologies, but I could only imagine what he could do with a few million dollars. I just wish Black filmmakers like AJ Fielder (who shot Daughters of the Dust and Crooklyn) and Malik Sayeed (director of photography on Clockers and Girl 6) were allowed to tell their stories too.
I have a pretty sizable amount of readership that are bloggers as well. Some of them aspire to be culture writers. What advice would you give them?
MG: My problem with some younger culture writers is that they limit themselves by not reading more, seeing different kinds of films or opening themselves up to different experiences. If you want to write about hip-hop and R&B, that’s cool, but you should read up on jazz, old school soul, punk, etc. I’m not saying you should be an expert, but as a music writer you should know the difference between Monk, Miles and The Clash.
The cultural critics I admired when I was starting out, most noticeably Carol Cooper, Greg Tate, Nelson George, Barry Michael Cooper, bell hooks, Michele Wallace and Frank Owen all knew a little bit about a lot of things: old novels, films, paintings, poetry, art galleries and museums, playwrights and small theater, comic books, rock music, etc. It’s all good to specialize, but don’t be afraid to enrich your mind with something new. It can only make one a better writer.
For better or worse, if it were not for Greg Tate, there would be no Bonz Malone, Harry Allen, Joan Morgan, Kris Ex, Scott Poulson Bryant, Toure, Danyel Smith, Michael Eric Dyson, Karen R. Goode, Selwyn Seyfu Hinds, Smokey Fontaine, John Caramanica, Jeff Chang, Amy Linden, Tom Terrell, Mark Anthony Neal, Tricia Rose, Sasha Jenkins, DJ Spooky (aka Paul Miller), Dream Hampton, Miles Marshall Lewis, Aliya King, SekouWrites, Kenji Jasper, Oliver Wang, Cheo Hodari Coker, Keith Murphy or myself.
Not to say that we wouldn’t be writing for somebody (perhaps medical journals or antique mags), but it was from studying Tate’s music writing mojo like cold lampin’ graduate students that helped give us form different options. Like Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis, the Beatles and Oasis, Grandmaster Flash and DJ Shadow, it was Tate and all of us.
I ask everyone this one question. A subject that comes up here quite often is the dissatisfaction with what “The Hollywood Machine” is producing in the way of Black Cinema. What, in your opinion, can the public at large do to change things?
MG: Yes, I agree. I’m not going to pick on anybody, but it seems that only certain kinds of Black films are made. Truthfully, the public is partially to blame, because when a different kind of Black film comes along, we don’t support it. I’m not talking about the handful of folks on both coast, I’m talking about the rest of the country. As for the Hollywood machine, well, where do I begin? I’ve met Black folks involved in the Cali film world (let’s not even talk about the inflated egos) and I’m not impressed. Creating for a certain audience is too easy, and I hope to one day see films based on the works of: J. California Cooper, John Edgar Wideman, Walter Mosley, Samuel R. Delany, Octavia Butler and others. There should more to movies than black men in dresses.
As for the Hollywood machine, well, where do I begin? I’ve met Black folks involved in the Cali film world (let’s not even talk about the inflated egos) and I’m not impressed. Creating for a certain audience is too easy, and I hope to one day see films based on the works of: J. California Cooper, John Edgar Wideman, Walter Mosley, Samuel R. Delany, Octavia Butler and others. There should more to movies than black men in dresses.
Some of the readers have commented that many singers—and especially rappers—are taking a lot of work from Black actors who have trained in the craft most of their lives. Some feel it is unfair, and these actors’ careers are languishing. What is your take on this?
MG: Well, this is a tricky question, because some singers and rappers are good actors. My only problem is when the actor is obviously a wack choice. Since Friday is one of my favorite films, I’m proud of the success of Ice Cube. And really, Method Man always plays himself, but that’s cool—Cheese still lives as far as I’m concerned. But, thinking back to Nas in Belly or Q-Tip in She Hate Me, makes me very sleepy.
What upcoming projects do you have popping up in the future?
MG: I’m working on a few things, but in August a collection of short stories about superheros of color is coming out. The book is called The Darker Mask: Heroes from the Shadows (Tor Books). Edited by Cali crime writer Gary Phillips and Chris Chambers, the book feature a new fiction piece from me called “The Whores of Onyx City,” and introduces my fly female superhero Sage Steele.
Ms. Steele is based in part on my fascination with blaxploitation queens Pam Grier, Tamara Dobson and Judy Pace; my personal soundtrack while writing the story was Cree Summer (Street Faerie), Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Martina Topley-Bird, Stephanie McKay (“Tell Like It Is”), J-Dilla, DJ Shadow and Portishead. Needless to say, the story is funky and strange.
Currently I have a cover story coming out in Uptown Magazine about the cast of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” an upcoming Ne-Yo feature for Stop Smiling Magazine and my wild styled South Bronx noir short story “boogie down inferno” has just been published in a Shannon Holmes ghetto-lit collection Hood 2 Hood.
Any thoughts and/or pop culture recommendations you would like to relay to the readers?
MG: My only thought is directed at those who want to writers. Me and my friend (and sometimes editor) Miles Marshall Lewis, like to proclaim, “Writers write”—which means, if you have a good idea you should write it instead of talking it. I know a lot of writers who talk a good game, but rarely produce. Of course we all need to pay bills, but don’t wait for somebody to give you loot before you write screenplay, novel, short story or whatever…simply strive to be the best.
thanks Martha Cooper for the pic of mg, taken in front of the now abandoned PS 186 on 145th, where he attended school in the first grade. Anyone who would like read more of Michael’s essays and short stories should check out his blog. Also, last year he worked with Miles on two issues of the literary journal Bronx Biannual. Offering a different kind of hip-hop fiction, the journal is currently looking for a new publisher.
—Invisible Woman, invisible-cinema.blogspot.com