Archive for October, 2009


H1N1 (hsph.harvard.edu)

(PHOTO: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu) H1N1 Virus

The copycat illnesses have ruined everything. To hear the health experts tell it, it’s almost impossible now for influenza to stand out in a crowd. A dry cough, a sore throat — even a runny nose — is not enough to get anyone’s attention anymore.

Those other illnesses got influenza down, copying its symptoms so the disease is mistaken for a common cold instead of life-threatening — until it’s too late.

Combined, the seasonal and 2009 H1N1 flu were responsible for thousands of U.S. deaths, while the number of those hospitalized were in the hundred thousands, according to representatives from the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

To combat this trend, while encouraging mass vaccinations and debunking rumors about flu shots doing more harm than good, CDC representatives held a briefing  Thursday at D.C.’s Academy of Educational Development (AED) Center for Health Communication on Connecticut Avenue NW.

The briefing came almost a month ahead of National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW), which will take place Dec. 6-12. In its fourth year, NIVW is an annual joint effort among the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC, the National Influenza Vaccine Summit and other immunization partners.

(PHOTO: unknown)

(PHOTO: unknown)

During that week, local health departments, public health partners and providers are encouraged to enhance vaccine availability by scheduling additional clinics, extending clinic hours and facilitating mass vaccination in retail and other locations during NIVW and through the remainder of the influenza season, according to a CDC handout.

Thursday, a dozen reporters engaged in a round-table discussion organized by New American Media to provide information to ethnic news media outlets. Topics ranged from the current extent of the H1N1 pandemic, to how H1N1 differs from the seasonal flu, to the vulnerable populations that should be vaccinated.“We notice that there continues to be increasing [seasonal and H1N1 flu] activity in the vast majority of the country,” said Dr. Inzune Kim Hwang, a chief preparedness officer for the CDC’s Influenza Division.

The seasonal flu claims an average of 36,000 American lives annually, while more than 200,000 are hospitalized from serious flu-related complications, according to recent data.

And unlike the seasonal flu, the H1N1 flu takes a heavier toll on the vulnerable populations, which consists of children and pregnant women. Since its detection in April 2009, H1N1 was responsible for more than 600 U.S. deaths. Of those fatalities, 60 were children and 28 were pregnant women.

Dr. Tyra Bryant-Stephens, medical director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), noted that both the seasonal and H1N1 flu hits children in urban areas the hardest, affecting 25 percent of asthmatic youths in those areas. “They’re two to three times more likely to get hospitalized,” she said.

Dr. Hwang noted that more than 97 percent of all the viruses seen in laboratories are of the 2009 H1N1 subtype. But instead of creating a vaccine for those viral strains, the current H1N1 vaccine is for one strain, noted Alan Janssen, a health communication specialist at the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) Office of Health Communication.

Laing

(PHOTO: Dave Sandford/Getty Images) Quintin Laing #53 of the Washington Capitals enters the rink against the Toronto Maple Leafs during their NHL game at the Air Canada Centre January 23, 2008 in Toronto, Ontario.

There are also anti-viral drugs, such as the one used to treat Washington Capital left wing Quintin Laing. Thursday’s Washington Post reported that Laing’s recent diagnosis of H1N1 virus was confirmed by a team official Wednesday.

He was sent home Tuesday morning upon arriving at the team’s practice facility in Arlington, Va. and missed his first game of the season that night, according to reports.

A team spokesman told the Post that Laing, who’s been isolated from his wife and two infant sons, is taking anti-virus drug Tamiflu and resting. He won’t return to the team until he is symptom-free.

The CDC had posted guidance on how to use anti-viral drugs for treating influenza, noted Dr. Hwang. “The Tamiflu medication itself is a capsule-form,” he said. The treatment usually comes with ten capsules in a pack. “The normal way to treat is to treat one capsule twice a day for five days.”

If the symptoms persist or an individual continues to feel ill even at the end of that course, Dr. Hwange advised that they follow up with their health care provider to prevent the disease from becoming “a secondary bacterial infection,” or worst: some unusual form of influenza.

“The important thing to remember is that it shortens the course of the disease, but it’s not a ‘cure’ for the disease,” Dr. Bryant-Stevens said. “So we do try to use it judiciously.” She said the best course of action is vaccination.

There are about 30 million doses of H1N1 flu vaccine available for order, said Dr. Hwang who added that majority of them have been assigned to different states. “Roughly about 15 million doses have been delivered at this point,” he said.

On the issue of safety, experts said the vaccine is produced the same way as flu vaccines. “If this vaccine had shown up earlier, it probably would have been part of what we use for our seasonal flu shot,” Janssen said.

“It’s important to remember that the flu vaccine, right now, really is our only method of preventing bad outcomes,” Dr. Bryant-Stephens said. “Everywhere you look, there’s someone who would be affected by you getting the vaccine.”

Individuals who should not get the vaccine are those with severe (life-threatening) allergy to eggs, or to any other substance in the vaccine, according to the CDC. Those individuals are advised to inform the person giving the vaccine of any severe allergies.

Others who should not get the vaccine or should wait include:
-children younger than 2 and adults 50 years and older
-pregnant women
-anyone with a weakened immune system
-anyone with a long-term health problem such as heart disease, lung disease, asthma, kidney or liver disease, metabolic disease such as diabetes, anemia and other blood disorders.

For more information, call CDC at 1-800-232-4636. Visit the CDC online at www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu or www.cdc.gov/flu. Visit the web at www.flu.gov.

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Green Tea: The Harvest

The scene is nighttime. A woman struts down D.C.’s U Street, ready for a night out on the town. Everything about her exudes feistiness.  Every bit of that spunk and spirit is in her thigh-high dress and wide shiny belt, her fishnet stockings and black leather jacket.

Even her auburn-colored blowout is flared in peacock fashion; her cranberry lipstick makes her mouth seem almost edible. And if this doesn’t entice you, the cameraman slows her strut so that she slides into each movement the way honey slides out a jar.

Green Tea 1 (courtesy)

(PHOTO: Coutesy)

And that’s just the humble side of Takeah Scott, known to her fans as Green Tea. The singer has fellas outside the Chili Bowl snapping their necks. Inside a lounge, she flirts with guys at the bar and has each one, in succession, trying to woo her off a black leather couch. She does all this while singing the theme song, Crazy Feelin’, which seems to trail wherever she goes.

Can Scott’s other persona compete with Green Tea? As an advocate on behalf of D.C.’s youth, Scott seems to think Green Tea’s fire and thunder pales in comparison to her passion as a social worker. “Initially, what drew me [to social work] was I wanted to help families communicate better,” she says.

For almost six years, Scott’s helped adolescents communicate through play therapy, which uses the therapeutic powers of play to help adolescents prevent or resolve psychosocial challenges and enhance their growth and development.

This form of therapy usually involves children, ages 3 through 11, and provides a way for them to express their experiences and feelings through a process that’s natural, self-guided and self-healing. Since a child’s experiences and knowledge are often communicated through play, it becomes an important way for them to know and accept themselves and others, according to child therapy sources.

“I love adolescents. I think they’re the most misunderstood,” Scott says. Overall, “I’m a people person and I love helping people to communicate their thoughts.” She hopes to communicate on a broader platform, when she leaves the profession soon to pursue music full-time.

(PHOTO: Coutesy)

(PHOTO: Coutesy)

Growing up listening to the Clark Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald and Donny Hathaway, the Southeast D.C.-native recalled being 3 years old – standing on top of tables and singing into a spoon to entertain family members.

The rites of passage for most Black singers start in the church. Scott started out singing at the Blood Redeeming Church of God in D.C. before she set out to make a bigger name for herself locally. Like most artists, her rites of passage involved her hitting up open mikes, or “tilling the ground” as she calls it.

Michael F. Willingham Jr. (known as emcee yU) spotted Scott at an open mike one night nine years ago. It was at a U Street venue formerly known as Bar Nun and currently called Pur. Willingham was impressed. “I thought she had skills after seeing her perform,” the Suitland, Md.-based emcee recalled.

Those skills caught him by surprise. “I like how she’s kind of like a sleeper,” Willingham said, referring to her humility. “I didn’t think such a big presence would come from her.” One night, she stopped her performance to bring up Willingham to flow on a song with her. “I thought it was generous of her,” he says.

Since that night nine years ago, the emcee says he’s seen a lot of growth in her work. “I never got to tell her face to face that I love the video she did with Roddy Rod,” Willingham says. “I wish her the best in all of her future endeavors.”

Scott continued tilling that ground by doing free shows and jumping at opportunities to sing whenever requested – all of this while working a day job as a social worker and a part-time job as a therapist.

A typical day for Scott is waking up at 6 a.m., going to her full-time job, and then her part-time job in the evenings. If she has a gig, she does it after her part-time job. If not, she hits the studio to record or brainstorm ideas for new songs. On the off days, she’s hanging out with her “superman.”

“It’s also difficult…when you’re trying to do so many things and you’re also in a relationship,” Scott says. “It’s hard work,” she adds, with a laugh. “That’s another job. Add that to the list.”

If there’s a lesson to be learned from her rites of passage, Scott says it’s protecting her brand and reputation. “Your gift can take you into places where your character can’t keep you,” a wise man once told her.

“There are artists who have been out in the game for a long time, but they don’t do well because their attitude,” Scott says. Of the process, she added: “You’re really just tilling the ground and your harvest will eventually come.”

(PHOTO: Courtesy)

(PHOTO: Coutesy)

Her harvest came with the 2005 release of her first album, Have a Cup of Green Tea Dosage I: Shades of Green. That year, she started singing professionally and met another local artist.

“Takeah is a very talented artist and performer,” says Terrence Cunningham, a singer and musician and songwriter living in Suitland, Md. Cunningham recalled meeting Scott four years ago at a show they were both billed to perform at. “Bright, exuberant” and “great performer” are some adjectives he used to describe Scott. Said Cunningham, “Be sure to look out for her.”

Another harvest came in 2008, when Scott released her second album, Dosage II: Choices. Unlike her first album, Scott says she had a plan this time. Aaron Abernathy, a singer and songwriter and vocal arranger who worked with Scott on the second album, agreed. “She knew what she wanted to do. She was prepared,” says the 26-year-old (known by his performance name “AB“), who recalled meeting Scott in late 2005, while gigging in the D.C. area. “She told me she was working on her second album and was looking for a certain type of feeling,” says Abernathy, now located in Los Angeles. “We just started recording together.”

On Dosages II: Choices, he did most of the vocal arrangements, wrote two songs and did a duet with Scott. “A lot of blood, sweat and tears, but it was a good process,” Abernathy says. On work ethic, he added: “We used to go [into the studio] for three-hour blocks. She would just knock songs out.” They knocked the album out in three months, doing studio sessions only on weekends.

Her plan for the second album was to target the east coast, doing shows in Virginia, D.C. and Baltimore, and build grassroots campaigns in those areas before branching out. So far, she’s performed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Her plan also includes her working on a mixtape, “Beautiful Weirdos: The Outcast,” due out soon. Her upcoming performances include this Thursday at Peace and Cup of Joe in Baltimore, and Oct. 30 at Spirit of Faith Christian Center in Temple Hills, Md.

(PHOTO: Gypsy Soul Photography)

(PHOTO: Gypsy Soul Photography)

But tilling those grounds has not been an easy task for Scott as an independent artist. Some of the cons included her exerting time and energy to promote herself, and paying for everything. The task is even more difficult being a woman on the road. There’s the fact that “some people don’t take women seriously,” Scott says. “If you happen to have anything that appeals – you have breasts or a behind – people tend to look at that more so than the craft.”

Since she’s been on the road, Scott has had to deal with harassment from male fans trying to get her phone number after shows. During a performance, some guys even made gestures of holding their hearts and blowing kisses at her. “I’m like, ‘You guys are crazy,’” she recalled. “’Absolutely crazy.’” She’s also dealt with show promoters trying to take her out on dates instead of paying her. “No. You pay me,” Scott recalled saying.

But the pros make it all worthwhile, she says. “The liberty and freedom to be who you are, for you to experiment,” she says. “Your creative freedom…to change direction as you see fit for flexibility is also” worth it. She has her family and friends to help her overcome some of the cons.

Scott’s recent harvest included a performance at Eden’s Lounge in Baltimore and another one at the 4th Annual International Soul Music Summit (ISMS), from Sept. 24 – 27 in Atlanta.

The largest music conference in the world dedicated to the soul genre, the ISMS is a forum for the exchange of information relating to the business of soul music and a showcase for new and emerging Soul artists, according to soulmusicsummit.net.

Since the inaugural summit in 2006, the number of attendees has grown from more than 500 to more than 1,900 in 2008, according to the Web Site. This year’s summit included panels on artists, retail, radio, management, performance and consumers. It also featured live performances and concerts/acoustic jam sessions, a themed networking session, DJ parties, and unsigned artists showcases.

Additionally, the summit featured a fashion show, The Recognition & Homage Awards show, art gallery showcases and exclusive VIP parties with headlining artists. Rashaan Patterson, Dionne Farris, Jaguar Wright, Raphael Saddiq, Van Hunt, N’Dambi and Tony Rich are among the past notable guests who’ve attended the conference.

(PHOTO: Gypsy Soul Photography)

(PHOTO: Gypsy Soul Photography)

In a video of the Eric Roberson Show at this year’s summit, Scott wins over the crowd with her song, “Soul Connection.”

Prior to singing that selection, she had a discussion with the crowd. She asked the crowd of mostly women if they’ve ever dated someone, thinking things were going right until the person showed them otherwise. The crowd yelled back: “That’s right!” and “You got it girl!”

Holding up a palm, Scott continued, “You do everything like you’re a couple, but really you’re in that gray area.” Scott paused for effect, then said, “Well, I got tired of being in the gray area.” And the crowd cheered.

A woman yelled out when Scott sang, “You can’t give it to me because we ain’t on the same page spiritually.” And as if the song summed up his experiences too, the cameraman shouted, “Sing it, girl!” The crowd was singing it too when they joined in on the chorus: “I want a soul connection, connection, not a soul disconnect.”

Of the overall plan, the singer says it’s continuing to promote her albums and her brand anyway she can. “I’m working hard to just get out there and branch out from the D.C., Baltimore and Virginia area,” Scott says. “I want to be locally known and internationally accepted.”

For more information on Green Tea, visit her online at myspace.com/greenteasoul and at A Diary of an Independent Artists on youtube.com/choctyde. Her CDs are available at cdbaby.com/greenteamusic2, iTunes and her shows.

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Looking up from a paperback, you notice the bookstore’s packed but no one’s reading or buying anything. Not the ladies blocking the aisle to the restrooms, laughing loud and talking to each other over bookcases. And, certainly, not the couple making out over in the poetry section. Those groups leave when a hostess calls them to be seated in the adjoining restaurant. They’re replaced by a group of guys taking their conversation from the bar to the bookstore and bringing their drinks along to be placed on those shelves.

And of all its purposes, one thing’s clear: books may function only as decorations for some people. But what if they ceased to exist, or never existed at all? No bookstores or libraries. No spot — and no way — for book fiends to cop a fix and nod off in literary stupors. That question has some writers, literary activists and advocates in D.C. redefining their world.

(PHOTO: www.english.vt.edu) E. Ethelbert Miller

(PHOTO: Courtesy) E. Ethelbert Miller

“Without our literary legacy we would have to ‘dream’ a world,” said E. Ethelbert Miller, who chairs and serves on the boards of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and The Writer’s Center, respectively. Since 1974, he has been the director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University. “I can’t imagine an educational institution like a college without books,” the poet and author said. Try imagining Islam without the Quran. “Impossible,” he said. Books help shape identity.

They shaped his while growing up in the South Bronx during the late 1950s and early 1960s. That period, known as the post-World War II era, was dominated by the “Beat Generation.” The literary movement formed in New York City around Columbia University and was established later in San Francisco. The term “beat” — according to various sources — “referred to the countercultural rhythm of the Jazz scene” and “to a sense of rebellion regarding the conservative stress of post-war society.”

(PHOTO: Courtesy) Abdul Ali

(PHOTO: Courtesy) Abdul Ali

During that era, bookstores were popular places for writers and thinkers. Miller recalled spending Saturdays with his brother, hitting up bookstores in Greenwich Village. “We fail to understand that a bookstore is not simply where one goes to purchase a book — it’s also a place of community,” he said. Of the times now, he added, “We are a people in need of new literary guardians. The loss of our literary institutions is a victory of ignorance.”

That victory of ignorance once had people thinking the world was flat. Only through literature were they able to dismiss such a notion, said Abdul Ali, host of Poet’s Corner on WPFW. “Literature offers dimension to our imagination and records the evolution of our intellectual heritage,” he said. It’s also “a record of conversations that authors have with society since the beginning of presses.” Without books, he added, all of that is lost.

So why is something so significant taken for granted? “There are way too many things that compete with literature these days,” Ali said. “We’re seeing the consequences of this across the nation.” Recent data by the National Right to Read Foundation (NRRF), a literary advocacy group, showed that 42 million American adults are illiterate. About 50 million are not reading at fourth or fifth grade levels, and the number of functionally illiterate adults increases by about 2.25 million each year. “Our literate culture is deteriorating,” Ali said. He recalled a time when writers used literature to communicate to large populations. “Nowadays,” Ali added, “writers are just talking to other writers.”

(PHOTO: Courtesy) Casey Tesfaye

(PHOTO: Courtesy) Casey Tesfaye

Casey Tesfaye, poet and senior research analyst at the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Md., can’t imagine a world without her books. Her appreciation for them came when she went through what she called “a period of detox and transition” after completing a strenuous college program. “I used them as an escape from my thoughts and my life,” Tesfaye said. “At the time, I especially appreciated [Native American writer] Sherman Alexie’s dark novel, ‘Indian Killer.’”

To some folks, literary institutions are seen as “high-minded and made out to be distant or unavailable,” she said. Some people are put off by the idea and attitude of some artists and intellectuals that literature belongs to some and not others. “The word ‘literary,’ alone, evokes wine and slippers,” Tesfaye said. However, “The truth is that there is something out there within the literary world for everyone. There is something that can stir you, no matter who you are.”

(PHOTO: Courtesy) Brian Gilmore

(PHOTO: Courtesy) Brian Gilmore

Brian Gilmore, a public interest lawyer and poet and writer and columnist, has a different take on the idea of a world without books. “I don’t think our world will ever be without a literary legacy, I just think that legacy is evolving into something else based up on our development and our ability to communicate with each other differently now,” Gilmore said. Before books, there was an oral history that often included folklore, myths, songs and stories that were passed down from generations by word of mouth.

Both E. Ethelbert Miller and the poet Joel Dias-Porter (aka DJ Renegade) agreed that without books, the oral history would be one that’s strong and current.  “We might be more communal without the book,” Miller said. Dias-Porter added that people would have better memories. “There would still be stories and poems, they just wouldn’t be written down and would be a little harder to share across cultures,” the poet said. And what’s lost without books? “The ease with which information can be communicated, not just across physical space, but across time,” Dias-Porter said. “We know Chaucer’s work because it was preserved in a written form.”

(PHOTO: Courtesy) Joel Dias-Porter (aka DJ Renegade)

(PHOTO: Courtesy) Joel Dias-Porter

And just like those oral histories were recorded in written form and printed inside of books, Gilmore said the way people communicate is ever-changing. Technology, he noted, is already forcing books to become something else. (Books and articles can be downloaded and read off electronic devices; and Google introduced its electronic reader, the Kindle, in 2007.) So, 100 years from now, will parents read to their children? the poet and columnist wonders. Or will that intimacy be lost with e-books and electronic readers? While there’s no way of knowing that, Gilmore said, “These are the kinds of technological issues that are before us that will change us but will also open up enormous possibilities for development and knowledge exchange.”

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(PHOTO: Courtesy)

(PHOTO: Courtesy)

If you asked him 30 years ago what he wanted to be, Randall Dottin would have said, “An actor like Bill Cosby.”

He would have told you he raced home after school every day to catch Cosby in old episodes of I Spy and The Electric Company, and how he even tried to catch him on the silver screen. “I really wanted to be an actor,” the 37-year-old says.

The Cambridge-native didn’t know then fate had a bigger plan for him — one that entailed him being behind a camera instead of in front of one. Dottin thought he was chasing a calling when he played the leading role in an elementary school play that was a version of The Gingerbread Man.

He thought he was chasing that calling in high school, when he traveled and performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland during the summer of 1988. Dottin, who was 15 at the time, didn’t know the open arts festival was the largest one of its kind.

Started in 1947, the festival continues to feature big names in showbiz and street performers, according to edfringe.com. It covers a range of art forms from theater, comedy, children’s shows and dance; to physical theater, musicals and operas; to all genres of music, exhibitions and events. In 2008, hundreds of groups participated in putting on more than 2,000 different shows with a total of more than 31,000 performances in 247 venues.

When Dottin attended that festival as part of a theatre group from St. Sebastian’s High School, he didn’t know it would change his life.

(PHOTO: Courtesy) Randall Dottin, left, poses with his friends after their high school graduation in 1990.

(PHOTO: Courtesy) Randall Dottin, left, poses with his friends after their high school graduation in 1990.

At the festival, he saw a one-man show based on Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X. It was the first time he had heard of the Muslim minister, public speaker and human rights activist. In retrospect, Dottin says, “It’s so funny how a young Black kid” – from the U.S. – “goes to the UK and finally hears about Malcolm X.”

That moment was the second of many Dottin says developed his consciousness. The first was before that trip, when he came across an article on Spike Lee and August Wilson. While reading that article, he was struck by how prominent the two African-American men are in the arts.

With his 1986 film, She’s Gotta Have It, Lee’s credited for leading the new wave of young Black independent filmmakers “armed with audacious visions and fresh perspectives about black life,” writes Greg Braxton in a March 2008 article for the Los Angeles Times. These indie filmmakers included Robert Townsend, the Hughes brothers, Mario Van Peebles, Charles Burnett, Matty Rich and John Singleton. According to Braxton, “They created comedies and dramas barbed with sharp perspectives on race, class, social conditions and politics.”

August Wilson was a playwright, whose literary legacy is the ten-play series, known as The Pittsburgh Cycle. For that series he won two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama. Each play is set in a different decade, portraying both the comic and tragic aspects of the African Americans living through the 20th century. Nine of the plays are set in Pittsburgh’s African-American neighborhood, known as the Hill District.

Both Lee and Wilson were unapologetic about using the culture of their people in their works. The way they used it, Dottin recalls, “Was inclusive and not exclusive.” It became clear to him then what his calling was. Dottin wasn’t sure how he would do it but knew he was going to be an indie filmmaker.

His personal and artistic journey that started in the summer of 1988 took him to Dartmouth College, where he majored in film and graduated in 1994. It took him to Columbia University, where he completed his MFA in Film in 2003.

(PHOTO: images.businessweek.com)

(PHOTO: images.businessweek.com)

At Dartmouth, Dottin won two awards for a play and a short film. He also scored an opportunity that took him to New York City, where he currently lives. Looking back, Dottin’s convinced fate had a hand in making things happen for him. As an undergrad, he was walking the halls of the college’s film department in 1993, when he spotted a billboard posting and jumped at the opportunity to intern at Spike Lee’s production company, 40 Acres and a Mule.

Prior to offering the internship, Spike Lee struck a six-picture deal with Universal Studios, which resulted in the director opening a story development department to solicit scripts to be made into feature films. Cirri Nottage, a Dartmouth alum, was hired to head that department. She sent the notice that was posted on the billboard Dottin almost passed up on his way to class. Coming across Dottin’s application in the pile, Nottage read he had won a scriptwriting competition for his play, Hustle.

(PHOTO: Evan Sung for The New York Times) In Fort Greene, Brooklyn, a 1930s firehouse that has been converted into two duplex lofts was leased to Spike Lee and his production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks for the past 22 years.

(PHOTO: Evan Sung for The New York Times) In Fort Greene, Brooklyn, a 1930s firehouse that has been converted into two duplex lofts was leased to Spike Lee and his production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks for the past 22 years.

The play, currently being adapted for the screen, is about three generations of street ball players and the struggle to overcome the legacy of betrayal. The idea came out of a conversation Dottin and the play’s producers had about the absence of Black fathers and its effects in urban communities. “These young men are growing up without the guidance…and they’re forced to choose men in their communities to follow that are not really helping them grow and man-up,” Dottin says. They’re “not helping them learn about themselves or how to serve themselves, their families and communities.” In Hustle, the playground is where Black youths seek out their missing fathers. And while they might not find them there, the game, itself, becomes a surrogate with its rules and disciplines. On the court, they learn the game has costs and benefits. “When you play street ball, if you practice the game and become excellent, the game will come back to you,” Dottin says. “People of the community will give you the love that you may not experience at home.”

Impressed by this, Nottage invited Dottin to New York for an interview. He got the gig. It was the summer of 1993. Spike Lee was shooting Crooklyn at the time and was wrapping up the theatrical run of his other movie, Malcolm X.

As an intern, Dottin’s primary duties were to read scripts and run errands to the set of Crooklyn, where he watched daily shoots as a perk of the internship. Because of 40 Acres’ open submission policy, “Everybody was sending in scripts; people were even sending in handwritten scripts in hopes that Spike Lee would produce their movie,” Dottin recalls. There was even an extreme case when a guy called in, claiming to be chased by the mob. “I just need a little office where I can write this script that I know is going to be hot,” Dottin recalls the caller saying. “Do you think you could talk to Spike about getting me an office at 40 Acres and a Mule?’”

It was an experience Dottin enjoyed, and one that taught him a valuable lesson. “I saw a little bit of the pressure that was put on Spike Lee because he was the only African American consistently directing films at the time,” he says. “I saw a glimpse of that pressure and how he worked really hard to keep on making movies despite what the obstacles were.”

(PHOTO: blackclassicmovies.com)

(PHOTO: blackclassicmovies.com)

Lee and several others from his generation were heirs to a tradition that predates them. “Race movies” was a film genre that existed in the U.S. between 1915 and 1950. The films were produced for an all-black audience and featured an all-Black casts. “These movies…provided employment for hundreds of underutilized talents languishing in servile roles in mainstream filmmaking,” writes Violet Glaze in a February 2006 article for the Baltimore City Paper. “Directors such as Oscar Micheaux took pains to reflect an African-American life more familiar and optimistic to the newly, or nearly, middle-class Black audience hungry to see their own on screen.”

At 40 Acres and a Mule, Dottin says he saw Lee continue that tradition by fighting for Black teamsters to drive some of the trucks and fighting with unions to make sure there were crew people of color. “I think because we’ve been so successful, we don’t really think about those battles that he fought,” Dottin says. “It’s a legacy that we need to understand lest we forget and things change.”

More than 20 years after Lee kicked down the door for his generation, Tyler Perry has emerged and established himself as a dominant voice. In his LA Times article, Braxton described Perry’s films as a “traditional formula of romantic, family-centered melodrama – spiced with over-the-top, insult-hurling characters.” But Perry’s popularity has sparked debates among Black filmmakers and observers. Among them was D’Angela Steed, one of the heads of Strange Fruit Media, who accused Hollywood of suffering from the Tyler Perry Syndrome. “We want to tell multidimensional stories with in-depth characters,” Steed told the Times. When her company pitched a made-for-TV drama to a cable network, she claimed their response was, “What’s the Tyler Perry version?” Her partner, Nia Hill, told the Times that the images Perry’s characters portray are too stereotypical to be taken lightly.

On the other side of that debate is Dottin. “The people who are really harsh critics of Tyler Perry…need to see the

(PHOTO: Christian Lantry / Corbis Outline) Born into poverty and raised in a household scarred by abuse, Tyler fought from a young age to find the strength, faith and perseverance that would later form the foundations of his much-acclaimed plays, films, books and shows, according to his bio at tylerperry.com.

(PHOTO: Christian Lantry / Corbis Outline) Born into poverty and raised in a household scarred by abuse, Tyler fought from a young age to find the strength, faith and perseverance that would later form the foundations of his much-acclaimed plays, films, books and shows, according to his bio at tylerperry.com.

bigger picture,” he says. “The bigger picture is that we’re focusing on Tyler Perry because Tyler Perry is the only consistent producer of Black films that we have, right now.” Dottin noted that Perry’s films speak to middle-aged, Black, church-going women – an audience Perry learned to connect with through the plays he produced before becoming a filmmaker.

Seeing validity to some of the criticisms, Dottin also challenged filmmakers who don’t like Perry’s films to make their own. To hear him tell it, he doesn’t allow himself to be affected by the so-called Tyler Perry Syndrome in Hollywood. “I realized throughout my study of independent filmmaking and filmmakers that Hollywood has never given anyone a chance,” says Dottin, who knew fate could only take him so far. “You got to go and take that shit.”

It’s that attitude that pushed Dottin to get his Columbia University MFA thesis film, A-ALIKE, out to the public when no one was rushing to give him a deal. A-ALIKE is the story of two brothers from opposite sides of the social spectrum. One brother is a corporate executive and the other brother is an ex-convict. The corporate executive picks up his brother from prison on the day of his release. “They haven’t seen each other in four years,” Dottin says. On their ride home, the story becomes more about the struggle of two brothers trying to reconcile their estrange relationship and to reconcile the choices they made in their lives and how those choices split them apart. “In the climax of the movie,” the filmmaker says, “they realize that despite the facts that they made choices that took them in different directions they realize how alike they are.” Because of that determination, Dottin’s film won numerous awards including the Director’s Guild of America Award for Best African-American Student Filmmaker, Best Short Film at the Roxbury Film Festival and the Gold Medal in the Narrative Category in the 2004 Student Academy. A-ALIKE placed second in the National Board Review of Motion Picture Award and was a finalist in the HBO Short Film Competition at the American Black Film Festival. Additionally, A-ALIKE was screened at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival. The film was licensed for a two-year broadcast run by HBO in 2003.

(Flyer: Courtesy)

(Flyer: Courtesy)

Columbia News, an online publication of Columbia University’s Office of Communication and Public Affairs, reported that Dottin’s film beat out more than 200 entries nationwide in the highly competitive narrative category at the 31st annual Student Academy Awards. “We are proud of Columbia’s record, which indicates pretty clearly how strong our filmmaking program has become,” Dan Kleinman, chairman of the School of the Arts Film Division, told the news service in 2004. “Congratulations to Randy, who is having a wonderful year and deserves all this recognition.”

That attitude of taking what Hollywood wouldn’t give him also got Dottin recruited by Fox Searchlab in 2004 after being honored by the Director’s Guild of America. The Searchlab is a program for emerging directors who sign a first look deal with Fox Searchlight when they enroll. They have a year to make a short that becomes an audition piece for Fox executives. If the short is successful, the filmmaker enters into a two-picture deal with the studio. Randall’s short film, LIFTED, was completed in the Winter of 2007.

LIFTED is a story of a young mother/dancer who wants to be the greatest dancer ever. She hasn’t had a job in five years since she’s been taking care of her son. One night, she goes out for the biggest audition of her life and fails. She attributes her failure to her raising her son – something she sees as a burden and distraction that hinders her from pursuing her dreams. The night of her failed audition, the mother abandons her son at a pizza shop. What ensues is an encounter between the mother and spiritual guardian on a subway platform. The spiritual guardian sets the mother straight. “The story is all about a woman struggling to regain her worth and to see that all of these experiences and people are in her life for a purpose,” Dottin says. LIFTED premiered at New York’s Schomburg Library for Research in Black Culture.

The filmmaker wasn’t deterred by setbacks he encountered while shooting LIFTED, a film that cost him $80,000 to make. “I built a $25,000 subway set on a soundstage in Connecticut; the same soundstage where they shot Amistad,” Dottin says. “We shot it and we were going to do some re-shooting, and the set burned to the ground.” With $25,000 literally up in smoke, the filmmaker had a choice: he could either fold up his bags and call it quits or rebuild the set and finish shooting. “I had to finish it,” Dottin says. “I had to get my movie done.”

(PHOTO: Randall Dottin)

(PHOTO: Randall Dottin)

The perseverance paid off. LIFTED went on to screen at more than 30 film festivals and won 10 festival awards. The film continues to be requested for several screenings as an educational tool. Dottin has screened the film and led discussions at academic institutions such as Brooks Academy, Phillips Andover Academy and Noble and Greenough School in Massachusetts and Community Works, an arts in education program in New York City.

Dottin is currently at work on INDELIBLE, a story about a Black female scientist who races to find a cure for a rare disease that killed her husband and threatens to kill her son. The lead character has been engaged in a struggle with a corporate pharmaceutical industry to make drugs that save lives and make money. She runs head-on into the struggle when she realizes that her son is getting close to the age when he can contract this disease. The question for her becomes: Does she spend more time in the lab at the sacrifice of spending time with her son? or Does she spend more time with her son at the sacrifice of creating a cure for her son’s disease? “One way or another, when the disease becomes full-blown in her child, the disease will kill him,” says Dottin, who didn’t write the film. Instead, it was written by Mikki Del Monico and produced by Melanie Williams Oram.

The three of them recently won the Alfred P. Sloan Foundations $100,000 feature film grant. This award, given in conjunction with Columbia University will be used as seed money to start production on Dottin’s feature film debut as a director.

As part of his activism, Dottin founded and served as artistic director of Middle Passage Filmworks in 2001. The film production company strives to access and build on the cultural memory of the African Diaspora to create entertaining and empowering stories about people of color. “The best of our art taps both the spirits of our ancestors,” says Dottin, whose West Indian roots are through a grandfather from Barbados and a grandmother from Montserrat. Middle Passage Filmworks aims to join this tradition, using the lense of the African Diaspora to tell stories that touch everyone.

Randall Dottin poses with students, Cheleta Buddo and Sinede Rosales, at the graduation from the New York Film Academy in August.

(PHOTO: Courtesy) Randall Dottin poses with students, Cheleta Buddo and Sinede Rosales, at their graduation from the New York Film Academy in August.

Dottin currently teaches screenwriting, directing and acting at New York Film Academy. He also teaches for an arts in education program called “Making A Difference” as part of the community works organization. Through that program, he teaches at three New York City high schools – at PS241 in Central Harlem, he teaches digital photography; he teaches film at Mott Haven Village Prep High School in the Bronx and the High School for Math Science and Engineering on the campus of City College of New York. Dottin likened the classroom to a movie set because much like directors on a set, teachers are leaders of their classrooms. He notes that learning is a collaborative effort between teachers and students, just as it is between directors, their actors and crew.

At this point, Dottin’s students could be anyone looking to get into the film industry. His lesson for them? “You cannot take no for an answer…If you take no for an answer, that’s a sign of being mediocre,” says Dottin, whose recent honor by indieWIRE lets him know otherwise. In February, he was listed as one of the top ten new exciting voices in African American Cinema. “This game is hard enough,” Dottin says. “In the world of film, you cannot afford to be average or mediocre.”

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