ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Everything that hes doing makes perfect sense to him. Thats why when Steve Lopez says,
You need help, Nathaniel responds, No, you dont get it. This is what it is. This is
what makes me feel comfortable. This is not your mind. This is my mind.
Jamie Foxx Riveting as Homeless Savant
The Soloist: Film Review by Kam Williams
Despite being raised in the hood by a single-mom, child prodigy Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) exhibited such promise on the cello that by the time he graduated from high school in 1970 he had earned a scholarship to Juilliard. But unlike other classmates such as Yo-Yo Ma, Nathaniel would never get a chance to realize his full potential, because during his sophomore year he began exhibiting symptoms of the schizophrenia which would derail his dream of a career in classical music.
Soon, he had to drop out of school and return home to Cleveland where he was cared for by his mother until she passed away in 2000. At that juncture, he headed west, prompted by a delusion that his long-lost father resided in Los Angeles. Instead, Nathaniel only ended up on the infamous Skid Row, leading a hand-to-mouth existence in obscurity alongside thousands of the equally destitute and less-fortunate.
There, the only hint of his musical past was revealed when he periodically played the violin in the park while standing beneath a statue of Ludwig Van Beethoven. Nonetheless, Nathaniel generally went unnoticed by passersby until the fateful day, Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.), a writer for the L.A. Times, was struck by the virtuosity being exhibited by this homeless man on a battered, old instrument with only two strings.
The intrigued reporter introduced himself, and was shocked to hear semi-lucid Nathaniel, during rare moments of clarity, assert that he had once studied at Juilliard. After confirming that rarified pedigree with the schools administration office in New York, Lopez decided to write a series of feature stories about how someone so talented could end up a street musician begging for tips. However, he gradually found himself crossing the line from dispassionate journalist to friend and benefactor as he became increasingly involved with rehabilitating his subject, not only finding him an apartment, but arranging for violin lessons and mental health treatment as well.
Thus, Can this lost soul be saved? is the burning question posed by The Soloist, a bittersweet bio-pic based on Mr. Lopezs best-seller of the same name. Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement), the film features Jamie Foxx who does a magnificent job in his most challenging outing since Ray. Here, he convincingly conveys the tragic plight of a man still capable of flashes of brilliance who is more often than not betrayed by his own brain. Narrator Robert Downey, Jr. is just as effective playing the would-be Good Samaritan forced by his estranged wife (Catherine Keener) to question his own motivations when his every overture is ostensibly thwarted by the very person hes hoping to help.
Was Lopez truly altruistic, or just motivated by the potential book and movie deals that Nathaniels sensational tale might enable him to land? And was it fair of him to presume to know what was best for a schizophrenic without walking a mile in the mans moccasins or medulla oblongata? Judge for yourself. There are no easy answers here, so dont expect a Hollywood ending, even though the picture was shot on location right on Skid Row (and employed hundreds of homeless as extras), virtually in the shadow of Tinseltown.
A compelling cross of a couple of Academy Award-winning Best Pictures, A Beautiful Mind and One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest, capable of holding its own up against those similarly-themed, screen classics.
Excellent (4 stars) / Rated PG-13 for mature themes, drug use and profanity / Running time: 109 minutes / Studio: Dreamworks Pictures
To see a trailer for The Soloist, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrrLJT4YS9I
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Kam Williams Interviews Jamie Foxx, The Soloist
Texas native Jamie Foxx was born Eric Marlon Bishop on December 13, 1967 and raised by his grandparents from the age of seven months following the failure of his parents marriage. Although he was a star athlete at Terrell High on both the schools football and basketball teams, he majored in classical music and composition at the U.S. International University in California.
The versatile actor/comedian/singer/musician/writer/producer/director got his start in showbiz in 1989 when he went on stage on a dare on open mic night and tried his hand at standup. After spending time on the comedy circuit, he joined Keenan Ivory Wayans, Jim Carrey, Damon Wayans and Tommy Davidson in the landmark Fox sketch comedy series “In Living Color,” creating some of the show’s funniest and most memorable moments.
In 1996, he launched his own series, “The Jamie Foxx Show,” which was one of the top-rated programs on the WB Network during its five-year run. Jamie not only starred on the series but also was the co-creator and executive producer, and directed several episodes. He made his big screen in Toys in 1992, followed by appearances in Booty Call and The Players Club. He received critical acclaim for his riveting work in Any Given Sunday and as Bundini Brown in Ali, breakout roles which inexorably led to 2004, the Year of the Foxx, when he delivered a trio of powerful performances in Ray, Collateral and Redemption.
He won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the legendary Ray Charles as well as the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild (SAG), BAFTA and NAACP Image Awards. Jamie simultaneously garnered Oscar, Golden Globe, SAG Award, BAFTA Award, and Image Award nominations in the category of Best Supporting Actor for his work in Collateral. And he landed Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations and won an Image Award for his portrayal of condemned gang member-turned-Nobel Peace Prize nominee Stan “Tookie” Williams in Redemption. That amazing feat marked the first time that a single actor has received three Golden Globe nominations and four SAG Award nominations in the same year.
Foxx has since appeared in Dreamgirls, Miami Vice, Jarhead and The Kingdom, and will next star in the drama Law Abiding Citizen directed by F. Gary Gray. Besides his outstanding work in front of the camera, Jamie has also achieved a thriving career in music. His eagerly-anticipated J Records debut, “Unpredictable,” was nominated for eight Billboard Music Awards, three Grammy Awards, one Soul Train Music Award and two American Music Awards, for which he won Favorite Male Artist. And his second album, “Intuition,” was just released last December to rave reviews.
Here, he talks about his new movie, The Soloist, a true story in which he plays Nathaniel Ayers, a Juilliard-trained child prodigy, who ended up homeless after developing schizophrenia. In the film, Ayers is befriended by Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.), an L.A. Times reporter who hears him playing the violin in the park.
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KW: Jamie, I loved The Soloist and Im so honored to get this time with you.
JF: Thank you, bro.
KW: My first question is, did you get to meet Nathaniel Ayers on the streets in preparing to portray him?
JF: Yes I did. As a matter of fact, I snuck downtown with a little bit of a disguise and a security cat, and I just hung out right next to Nathaniel. He had no idea that I was watching him. I got a chance to see him speak to the world, and get excited, and be happy, and sad, and play his music. And I saw him preach. Watching that I was able to gather a lot of great information about who this guy was that I was about to play, without hearing anybodys opinion of him, but just from my firsthand look at him. Later, I was formally introduced to him, and he was on his best behavior. He smiled because he gets it that they were going to do a movie about his life. And then you see him not get it, and wondering, Whats going n here? And then hed swing back around and get it again. So, it was very interesting. And while all that was happening, I had a video camera on my phone that I used to record him the whole time. So, I came home, watched that footage, the footage I filmed when he wasnt watching, and the footage I filmed when he was aware.
KW: How did you prepare for the role after that?
JF: It was a matter of putting him together. Losing the weight getting the hair right getting the makeup right and going to that place that I have feared going to for a long time, that is, losing your mind.
KW: What made you afraid of that?
JF: As a child I always feared losing my mind. There was a guy in my neighborhood who always walked up and down the street talking to himself. I wont say his name, but I would always go, Ooh, thats scary. And then, when I was 18, I had a horrible experience when somebody slipped something into my drink. It was a college prank that really went bad, and I hallucinated for 11 months. The doctors said that sometimes people go and they never come back. I was lucky enough to get back, but the way I recovered was by playing music all the time, because I was in a music school. Isnt it interesting that Nathaniel Anthony Ayers had a similar situation?
JF: So, at one point while preparing for this movie I woke my manager at like three in the morning, saying, I got it, Im him, I know exactly whats going on. Nathaniel says this, that and the other, because he feels this way and that way. I used to do the same thing when I was in college. I played music, and the reason we play music is so we can soothe ourselves. Im him!
KW: How did your manger respond?
JF: He goes, Foxx, Im on way over to your house, because this is a little strange. And when he gets there, Im telling him all these different things which to him sounded like I was losing my mind. But to me, it made perfect sense, and thats who Nathaniel Anthony Ayers is. Everything that hes doing makes perfect sense to him. Thats why when Steve Lopez says, You need help, Nathaniel responds, No, you dont get it. This is what it is. This is what makes me feel comfortable. This is not your mind. This is my mind. So, there were a lot of different parallels going on.
KW: After seeing The Soloist, I spoke to the films director, Joe Wright, because I was upset that it hadnt been released last fall during Oscar season like originally planned. It struck me as a cross of A Beautiful Mind and One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest. But I think you did a better job at conveying the feeling of insanity than either of those other pictures, which were both excellent, too.
KW: Joe told me that you filmed on location on Skid Row and hired a lot of the homeless as extras. What was that like?
JF: It was interesting. I learned to have a different outlook on Skid Row. I arrived with my bravado, being an urban kid from the country, and thinking that there were people there out to get you. Theres gangbanging going on on Skid Row people selling drugs people on the come up So, I went down there with an attitude like, Yo, Im going down here, but Im watching my back. But I quickly learned that that wasnt what it was all about. They were mostly people who were really just trying to survive and to hold onto the little bit of human dignity they had left. I met actors down there, lawyers, and people who had been released too early from mental institutions that had turned their backs on them. People who had been living a couple of paychecks from being homeless, and then something bad happened, they lost everything, and now they dont know how to get back. I learned a lot of lessons, so when I look at them now, I dont think of them in the same way that I used to. I have to thank Joe Wright for that.
KW: It reminds me of how when I was watching the State of the Black Union recently, I saw former TV talk show host Iyanla Vanzant talking about recently becoming homeless. And she had been an attorney and a best-selling author.
JF: Yeah, it blows your mind, man, because you never know where you might be. That was another thing I said to my manager that night, And this is whats going to happen: Im going to lose all my money. Im going to lose this house, and Im going to end up homeless. And to me, it really felt like that could happen. And sometimes, in those situations, it really can.
KW: When you mentioned videotaping Nathaniel, it reminded me of a video I saw of you on the internet at the presidential inauguration where you were using your phone to tape a student from the Naval Academy, Chidiebere Kalu, singing acappella in his dress uniform. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5CgQgDwL_k&feature=player_embedded]
He actually happens to be a friend of my son, whos producing some tracks with him. Were you really impressed with Kalu?
JF: Yes, he just text-messaged me. I let him know to have some patience. Im trying to get it all together, so when I come to him its real legit. [Jamie starts singing the same song Kalu sings on youtube]. Whatever that song was, I called him on his answering machine, and said, Young man, Ive got some great ideas for you, Im just trying to put it all together. I think we could really do something special with him. When I listened to his music, I just didnt think that was the way he should go. I think that he could stay clean. He could be a real beacon coming from the military, doing some great inspirational music that would also sell. I dont want him to feel like hes corny, because I know hes got his thing going. But with some of the music I heard, I was like, Thats cool, but we need to find the right music for him and then capitalize on where hes coming from. This video footage I have of him is just amazing!
KW: Is there any question no one has ever asked you, that you wish someone would?
JF: Yes, theres a question. How come they dont ask me about how great I play ping-pong?
KW: Okay, how great do you play ping-pong?
JF: Im bad! I will challenge anybody. Dont even think about it. Unless youre left-handed and from China, you dont have a chance.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
JF: All the time.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good belly laugh?
JF: Every day, man. [Chuckles] If you hang out with me, youd see. I hang out with all comedians.
KW: The Realtor to the Stars Jimmy Bayan question: Where in L.A. do you live?
JF: I live on a farm outside of L.A., about an hour away. On a 40-acre avocado farm.
KW: Jimmy also wants to know, when did you think that an Oscar was attainable? When you left Texas? When you were on In Living Color?
JF: When we attained it.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
JF: To be honest, Dr. Seuss Green Eggs and Ham.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to?
KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
JF: Ooh The biggest obstacle? The mental obstacle of thinking that just because I was African-American that I couldnt have it all.
KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Whos at the top of your hero list?
JF: Barack Obama.
KW: The Laz Alonso question: Is there anything your fans can do to help you?
JF: By always telling me if its good, bad, or all right.
KW: Reverend Florine Thompson asks, if someone produces is a movie about the life of President Obama would you consider playing him?
JF: [Answers doing an impressive Obama impersonation that sounds just like the President] If theres any indication, that America is not the most incredible country in the world [Chuckles] Yes I would.
KW: And the good Reverend had a follow-up, who would you like to see cast in the role of Michelle Obama?
JF: Hmm, who would it be? Halle Berry.
KW: Reverend Thompson also says grandmothers have played an exceptional role in the black experience, and that in your song, “I Wish You Were Here,” you pay tribute to and share about your grandmother. She asks what role did your grandmother play in your life and how did she influence your spirituality?
JF: She gave me everything. She gave me the tools to be who I am, from music to athletics to knowing how to be a gentleman. She did it all.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman wants to know whether you still get royalties from Booty Call?
JF: [LOL] Yes, but theyre very small checks.
KW: Marianne Ilaw was wondering whether you would consider recording an old school R&B album updating hits from the Seventies.
JF: [Pauses to think about it] Umm . No.
KW: Keith Kremer asks if your Ugly Girl character from In Living Color going to make a cameo appearance in one of your future movies?
KW: Finally, aspiring scriptwriter Chris Carden says hes got a great screenplay he wants you to read.
JF: Thats okay.
KW: Well, thanks again for a great interview, Jamie and good luck with the film.
JF: Thanks, bro.
To see a trailer for The Soloist, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrrLJT4YS9I
To see the video of Navy Midshipman Chidiebere Kalu singing for Jamie Foxx at the Presidential inauguration, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5CgQgDwL_k&feature=player_embedded
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Struggle and Rescue, a Duet in Sharps and MinorsPolished to a high gleam by Mr. Wright and written by Susannah Grant (whose credits include In Her Shoes), the film is imperfect, periodically if unsurprisingly sentimental, overly tidy and often very moving. It works hard to make you feel good, as is to be expected, even as it maintains a strong sense of moral indignation that comes close to an assertion of real politics. Outrage would be too much for a mainstream entertainment like this one to manage. Like its muckraking journalist guide, it exploits its subjects for its own purposes. But its commitment to the material feels honest, nowhere more so than in Mr. Downeys darkly shaded, nuanced performance, one that deepens this film with its insistence on the fundamental mysteries of human character. . . . Mr. Foxx often seems uncomfortable in his role, wavering between pathos and something harder and truer, but his scatlike delivery of some of Ayerss twisting ropes of words can be mesmerizing. NYTimes
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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”Lisa Adkins, University of London
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By Isabel Wilkerson
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper’s wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man’s turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners’ plans to give him a “necktie party” (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by “the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn’t operate in his own home town.” Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Wilkerson’s magnificent, extensively researched study of the “great migration,” the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an “uncertain existence” in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 23 April 2009