My latest documentary, SIDNEY, had a glowing premiere at Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month! It felt amazing to honor Mr. Poitier after years of hard work with my collaborator, Oprah Winfrey.
My latest documentary, SIDNEY, had a glowing premiere at Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month! It felt amazing to honor Mr. Poitier after years of hard work with my collaborator, Oprah Winfrey.
A. Scott Galloway | Eurweb
*One of the most highly anticipated events at the Hollywood Bowl every other summer is the all-star “Black Movie Music Night” where multiple singers and musicians perform classic songs from African American motion pictures complete with scenes from the films shown on a big screen above the stage.
Oscar-nominated film and television producer/director/writer Reginald Hudlin, who masterminded “Black Movie Music Night at The Bowl” speaks to Los Angeles-based music journalist A. Scott Galloway about what attendees have instore this Wed. Aug. 24., highlights of past shows, his relationship with musical director Marcus Miller.
Hudlin ascended from shooting music videos for the likes of Heavy D The Boyz to directing the 1990 urban breakthrough film “House Party” to President of Entertainment for BET to producing films such as the Thurgood Marshall biopic “Marshall” (starring Chadwick Boseman) and so much more.
Here, he shares stories about the origin of his love for movie music, his film “Boomerang” at 30, memories of Hollywood Bowl concerts he’s attended, plus thoughts on the ‘Black Moses’ of music and film Isaac Hayes and ‘The Black Godfather’ Clarence Avant on whom he directed the award-winning documentary. Enjoy.
Galloway: Do the words “Rainy Day in Centerville” mean anything to you?
Hudlin: Woooo! You’re hittin’ it on multiple levels! First of all, I am a real music aficionado to the point of snobbery, right. I’m a huge Minnie Riperton fan AND a huge Ramsey Lewis fan. So, I loved that Ramsey album The Piano Player (Cadet/Chess – 1970) where he does a bunch of the songs that were also on Minnie’s first album, Come to My Garden (GRT – 1970). But I had never heard Minnie’s first album. I thought her first album was Perfect Angel (Epic – 1974), So when I’m dating this young lady, Chrisette, who later became my wife, we get into this whole debate about Minnie Riperton’s first album. I’m like, ‘Oh, no, you’re not gonna hip ME to some music?! I GOT this arena!’ We had already bonded on deep cuts by folks like Miriam Makeba. We’re already in the cut! So, we go to Tower Records, she pulls the CD out and plays it for me. These are songs I had heard Ramsey do instrumentally (“Whenever, Wherever,” “Close Your Eyes and Remember” and “A Rainy Day in Centerville”) but I’d never heard her vocal versions. So, I’m like, ‘O.K., you’re beautiful, you’re smart, you’re charming but, WHOA – you just hipped me to some music that I didn’t know and needed to know!’ I’m not going to exaggerate and say that’s one of the reasons I married my wife. However…
I was born in Centerville, Illinois! So, from my birth to my marriage…everything goes through that record. It’s a perfect, no-skip album. You just put that on!
Galloway: Charles Stepney, who produced and orchestrated both of those Ramsey and Minnie LPs, is being celebrated this Thursday (Aug. 18) with a concert in Millennium Park featuring a NEW version of the band Rotary Connection (222) which launched Minnie back in the `60s.
Hudlin: That’s long overdue! Charles Stepney is one of the greatest to ever do it.
Galloway: Now, I know you wrote a few songs for the cartoon “Bebe’s Kids,” but did you ever play an instrument, sing or have musical aspirations?
Hudlin: I play the stereo! (laughs) It’s funny, I was once on the tour bus with Parliament-Funkadelic where I got to meet and hang out with one of my heroes, Bernie Worrell (piano, keyboard and synthesizer wizard). Brother Foley (multi-instrumentalist), the one who brought me on the bus and is a great musician as well, told Bernie, ‘You know Reggie plays, too!” I’m like, “NO-NO-NO!! Do Not Embarrass Me Like That!” Bernie’s like, ‘I knew it! I could tell!!” (laughter)
No brother, I don’t play a thing. But music is the thing that inspires me in everything else I do. I feel like music is the ultimate expressive artform. Everyone else is trying to get to where music is, whether you’re a painter, a filmmaker, a poet, whatever. You’re trying to match the emotional impact that music has. That’s why I love doing this show. It celebrates this great music that has been done over all these decades and its impact on music.
Galloway: What are your first powerful memories of music as it was interwoven with film or television?
Hudlin: There are so many cases of great music and great movies coming together. Like the “James Bond Theme” (composed by Monty Norman who recently passed away July 11 at 94 years-old). We were a music-heavy household. Listening to film scores is something me and my older brothers did – like “You Only Live Twice” or “Goldfinger” (both scored by John Barry). That was kind of our way into classical music. In between our James Brown and Earth, Wind & Fire, we listened to those scores with our fingers pointed up to be the Walther PPK (gun), acting the whole thing out! Then when Isaac Hayes’ Shaft hit, that took it to the next level because you had all these amazing Black artists who were already making music that felt cinematic. All of a sudden, Isaac and Marvin Gaye (“Trouble Man”) had this bigger canvas on which to stretch out. The thing about that music of the `70s, they were doing some of their best work for movies. Curtis Mayfield’s score for “Superfly” is like an opera, each song telling the whole story of the movie. Listen to Luis Bonfa’s score for the Brazilian film “Black Orpheus” with all of it history of Bossa Nova.
So, when I would go to the Hollywood Bowl’s “Movie Night” and they played films on a big screen with the orchestra accompanying, I loved that. I wanted to do that with my favorite music and movies. That’s how I came up with the idea.
Galloway: People truly look forward to your “Black Movie Music Night” every two years. Was it a challenge to convince The Bowl to try it?
Hudlin: I’d been wanting to do it for a number of years. Then 7 years ago when I was nominated for an Oscar for producing “Django Unchained,” some people from The Academy (of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) invited me to become more involved. I told them my idea for the Black Movie Music night and they said, “That sounds great.” So, I pitched it to The Bowl and they said, “That sounds great.” So, we started putting the show together. And it’s a complicated program – very big and very ambitious. No one knew quite what it was because there hadn’t been anything quite like it. Through sheer force of will, we had to make something happen. So, the show went on and within the first two songs, the audience went crazy! By intermission, I see the head of The Academy and she was like, “This is the best show ever!” After the show, the Bowl was like, “We love this! Can’t wait to do it again.” Suddenly, it went from a one-time-only event to a semi-annual event. Then the Academy said we should consider you for some other shows. And that’s how I ended up producing The Oscars.
The moral of that story is to do what you believe in. I did it for art’s sake. I created the show because I wanted to see THAT SHOW. When I sat down to start programming the music for the first one, I came up with a list of songs. Just off the top of my head – no research – I stopped at 120 songs. I went to The Bowl and asked, “How many songs can I fit into one show?” They said, “About 12.” I was like “12?!?!” So, every year we do the show, we work our way through that list.
Galloway: I’ve been to the first three and enjoyed every one. One highlight was when we were all so devastated behind Prince’s death, you came back from intermission and had the orchestra play “Venus de Milo” from “Under the Cherry Moon.” It was a piece above and beyond appropriate for the Hollywood Bowl as it represented a pop superstar but a composition of his written for orchestra (arranged by Clare Fischer).
Hudlin: Prince is special to me. I try to honor him every year. He’s made so much great music and so much great music for movies. In the few times we got to meet, we talked about movies and music. He loved both art forms so much. “Venus de Milo” is such a beautiful piece that speaks to his breadth of talent and taste.
Galloway: I also loved when you had Gladys Knight perform not one but three songs from the “Claudine” soundtrack penned by Curtis Mayfield.
Hudlin: I remember watching Gladys’ total professionalism in rehearsal. During a break, I asked her about the making of that album. She told me incredible stories about being on the road with Curtis and how they recorded the songs. Then the night of the show, I’m at the lip of the stage in the wings, I feel someone on my back. I turn around and it’s “Babyface,” fanning out just like me! Then someone else tapped me on the shoulder and says, “Gladys performing these three songs all in one show may never happen again.” That was a moment in history.
People come to this event with their families which is so nice. For young people who don’t hear music with these kinds of lush arrangements, it’s so important. We showcase movie music for every generation. People often tell me when they’re on their way home, they’re talking about the next movies they’re going to be watching as a family over the next several nights.
Galloway: You mentioned Babyface who I understand will be participating this year because you will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of “Boomerang” (1992) which you directed and the soundtrack for which was released on LaFace Records (the Arista Records subsidiary helmed by Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds in the `90s.) Did (film star) Eddie Murphy personally bring that story idea to you?
Hudlin: Yeah. He saw “House Party,” got really excited and wanted to work with us (Reginald & Warrington Hudlin – The Hudlin Brothers). He sent that script over and I thought, “Wow! This will enable us to do that movie we’ve all been waiting for – a Black Romantic Comedy. We worked on it together to really make it reflect young Black professionals and their lifestyle. People still talk about this movie 30 years later.
The cast consisted of people I had great admiration for. Because it was an Eddie Murphy movie, they were all like, “Yeah, sure, I’ll do it!” I always wanted to surround Eddie with the kind of cast that he deserved – everyone firing on all cylinders. We were able to give “Boomerang” the dream cast. Technically, it was a job but it was so much fun…every day.
Galloway: I MUST ask you what it was like to work with a few of these great entertainers, beginning with Geoffrey Holder who played “Nasty Nelson.”
Hudlin: Just a legend – an honor. He embraced the role, knew exactly what to do and was just so much fun.
Galloway: Eartha Kitt who played “Lady Eloise”
Hudlin: Awesome! When Eartha and Grace Jones (who played “Strange’”) met, Eartha said, “You’re doing me but you’re doing it all wrong, darling!” She then started to teach Grace how to purr and growl in her Eartha Kitt style. Grace was gracious and completely went along with it. It was a historic moment with these two international singing/acting legends.
Galloway: John Witherspoon who played “Mr. Jackson” in his mushroom ensemble who delivered the instant hood classic line for sex: “BANG-BANG-BANG!!!”
Hudlin: There is probably no actor I worked with more than Witherspoon…movies, television, all kinds of stuff. He’s a legend, beloved by everyone and so missed.
Galloway: Finally, my Leo sister who celebrated her 56th birthday yesterday, Halle Berry, who played “Angela”: the ‘straightest’ role amongst all the craziness. You got Halle early in her career. She went on to win an Oscar and play so many memorable roles afterward. When you were working with Halle, did you have an inkling that 30 years later this pretty face would still be around and so grandly?
Hudlin: There was no doubt she was a movie star even though she was not yet famous at that time. But just from her part in Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever,” you’re like, ‘Wow, who’s that?!’ Then you meet her, she’s charismatic, beautiful, charming. She’s a person you want to be around. That’s that movie star quality. All of the crew people on the set fell in love with her in a way that was beyond her beauty. They were enamored by her spirit. So, no surprise for her to become who she is. She has clearly shown how versatile she is. I just saw “Bruised,” her directorial debut – another amazing turn for her. I would love to do more romantic comedy with her but she has proven that she can do anything. That’s the mark of a truly talented actress.
Galloway: What can we expect in your 30th-anniversary salute to “Boomerang” as part of this year’s “Black Movie Music Night?”
Hudlin: It’s tricky because you could do a whole night of “Boomerang” songs but we’ve got several other things on the plate, too. We’re going to celebrate the career of Sidney Poitier. We’re going to tip our hats to several movies of the past as well as movies of today. It will be a very eclectic program featuring Lalah Hathaway, Charlie Wilson and Babyface. We’ve never had Kid ‘N Play on the show so they’re going to bring some “House Party” action. We’ve never had Jennifer Holliday. We’ve never had Eric Benét. We’ve never had Warren G. We’ve never had Macy Gray. So, we’ve got a lot of great new faces as well as reoccurring favorites. That’s the right mix.
Galloway: Being a Chicago native, do you remember the first concert you attended at the Bowl or a couple that were most memorable?
Hudlin: I don’t remember the very first one but I’ve been to so many – from Earth Wind & Fire to Björk to The Count Basie Orchestra to that one-time-only concert with Marcus Miller, Carlos Santana, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Cindy Blackman (MegaNova). The Hollywood Bowl is my favorite music venue. So, I’m very happy to be back there and happen to be doing a show.
Galloway: You and Marcus Miller, Musical Director for “Black Movie Music Night,” go back quite a way. One thing of many he did was compose the score for “Boomerang” then turn the main theme into a vocal song featuring Raphael Saadiq for his album M2 [M-Squared] (3 Deuces/Telarc – 2001). Talk to me about your relationship with Marcus as a film scorer.
Hudlin: Marcus is a genius yet he’s so humble. He’s not a guy out there always gassing himself up. He’s universally respected. No matter what genre of music, people know Marcus Miller as quality. No matter what style of music, you know Marcus will nail it. I really rely on him during these shows. He was the perfect choice for a show like this.
Galloway: Do you feel like music is still optimized in today’s moviemaking the way it was in the past? For example, my favorite song of 2019 was “Collide” by Earthgang & Tiana Major9 from the movie “Queen & Slim.” Yet it was BURIED as the SECOND end credits song. I would never have discovered it had I not been the kind of moviegoer who sits through the credits to the end of a film. It just doesn’t feel like people leave movie theaters humming theme songs anymore.
Hudlin: It’s really unfortunate to look up and feel like the golden age of the movie soundtrack has passed… It’s not a priority for record labels anymore. I think the nature of record labels has changed. That great partnership when they could work with an artist or group of artists supporting both in terms of providing music for a film and the cross-promotional support for a film with a soundtrack album. I don’t know all the reasons why that’s not there anymore. But I lament its passing.
Galloway: As a Leo growing up with the pride that my birthday falls on Count Basie’s (Aug. 21) and one day after Isaac Hayes’ (Aug. 20) – I strongly believe that Isaac’s 1972 Oscar and Grammy wins for “Theme from ‘Shaft’” plus performing on both telecasts was the catalyst if not the height of Black Movie Music.
Hudlin: The older I get, the deeper I get into his music. The “Shaft” score, “Three Tough Guys” as well as the theme from the television show “The Men” prove he was a brilliant musician with a great sense of score and scale. Tragically, I never got to work with him
Galloway: My final inquiry into your amazing filmography is in regard to Clarence Avant and your documentary “The Black Godfather.” Can you speak to the impact of his singularly influential life?
Hudlin: When I directed that documentary, I also created a mandala visually depicting how Clarence Avant is connected to everything as he is the center of the hub. There are so many generations of artists, executives and politicians – so many people in so many fields – who owe their success to Clarence. For too long, he was this missing piece of Black History…mainly because he honestly believed in the phrase, “Real bad boys move in silence.” It was his daughter, Nicole, who finally convinced him to tell his story. I was honored for the opportunity. Clarence actually said, “I like Reggie. Let’s have him do it.” The effect of the movie just keeps going… It has been viewed so many times and so many people come up to me from every walk of life saying, “Man, that movie changed the way I think.” I’m very proud of the work and that his last gift to us continues to have an impact.
Galloway: No one I know has spoken to him since the tragic murder of his wife, Jacqueline, last December. The shooter was later sentenced to 150 years in prison. Do you have any idea how Mr. Avant is holding up?
Hudlin: I have not spoken to him…but I’ve talked with his daughter and people around him. All I can say is he’s a strong man.Comment + Permalink
When DC Comics announced the Milestone Generations documentary, I just assumed it would be an episodic series. After all, previous documentary attempts like Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics or SYFY Wire‘s Behind the Panel only just scratched the surface about Milestone Media, the groundbreaking publisher created to foster greater representation. So I was taken by surprise to discover that Milestone Generations was just a single film. In spite of the runtime at less than an hour, it’s not only a superb and earnest examination of the company and its shared universe of characters but also the creators and innovators responsible.
Co-founded in 1993 by Denys Cowan, Dwayne McDuffie, Michael T. Davis, and Derek T. Dingle, Milestone and its shared universe known as the Dakotaverse was often seen for years as a “failed experiment” after it ceased publishing comics due to the infamous comic speculators implosion of the ’90s and various other factors. However, like most things ahead of their time, Milestone’s creations have garnered a greater appreciation and audience over time that eventually culminated in its long-awaited recent revitalization.
What distinguishes Milestone Generations from the previous documentary projects that I mentioned is that it spotlights underappreciated innovations of the company. For instance, the documentary sheds light on the 100-color process to depict a variety of skin tones through interviews with Milestone color editor and artist Jason Scott Jones and artist Noelle Giddings.
Since his tragic passing, Dwayne McDuffie is often seen as the “Stan Lee of Milestone.” Given his extraordinary creative outlet and larger than live presence (both figuratively and literally) the epithet is understandable. However, it’s one that does a disservice not only to McDuffie but the countless others involved in Milestone. Case in point, some may be unaware that Jim Owlsey aka Christopher Priest was originally supposed to be Milestone’s Editor-in-Chief but bowed out for personal reasons. The documentary properly acknowledges Priest for coming up with the Milestone logo but glosses over Priest’s importance to Milestone’s creative direction. Given the runtime, there’s only so much information the piece can include so it’s completely understandable. In an old online column, McDuffie credits some of Priest’s specific contributions:
He was integral to the backstory of our universe’s origin myth, supplementing my notion of a “Stonewall-like civil uprising” (by drawing on the urban legends about chemicals added to Tahitian Treat soda to sterilize poor blacks). He titled the book Blood Syndicate (I was calling it “Bang Babies”) and replaced all the code names I came up with for those characters with good ones. In Icon, he forced me to give Rocket powers, even though I was sure the book would be better if she didn’t. I was wrong, he was right. Mark that down in your calendars, folks, you may never hear me say that again. Most importantly, Priest gave me a copy of his self-written editorial handbook. With his unique combination of intelligence, wit and self-aware prickishness, he described the job better than anyone else ever has. Over the years, I’ve referred to it often. I still think he should publish it.
While the documentary thankfully never falls into the trap of becoming ‘The Dwayne McDuffie” it still manages to properly pay tribute to the late/great creator through interviews with his friends and colleagues like former Milestone editor Matt Wayne and most especially his widow Charlotte “Fullerton” McDuffie. Though she appears only briefly, seeing McDuffie’s mother Edna Gardner on camera for the first time to talk about her son alongside longtime friend Robin Chaplik is guaranteed to pull at the heartstrings.
Without a doubt, the documentary’s primary focus (and rightfully so) is the people responsible for the creation of Milestone. By putting the creators at the forefront, the actual Milestone characters and stories are only discussed in a fairly generalized or abstract sense. It’s fine for those who already know the characters, but I’m not completely sure a non-comic reader would have a better understanding of the uniqueness of the Milestone characters after watching the documentary. Take Augustus Freeman better known as the superhero Icon. On the surface, he may simply appear to be a “black Superman pastiche” but what sets him apart and often puts him into conflict with others are his conservative views and beliefs. At the time when Milestone first launched (and probably even more so today), to be black and a conservative was incongruous so to depict one of your main heroes with conservative leanings was a rather bold choice. It’s a testament to McDuffie and others that despite holding opposing political views that they could still portray a character like Icon as a hero. Milestone, in a far cry from my chief criticism of today’s comics and media in general, really sought to see things from different points of view and in doing so tried to bring people closer together.
Any minor quibbles or complaints I have only speak to my desire for a followup project for an even deeper dive. The sky is the limit regarding potential topics of Milestone’s history that didn’t make the final cut in this documentary such as transgender creator Maddie Blaustein, the earlier attempts to branch in media outside of comics like the ill-fated M.A.N.T.I.S. television series, or the development of the Static Shock cartoon.
It also needs to be noted that Milestone helped break in quite a number of big time comic talents into the industry like Humberto Ramos, J.H. Williams, and most especially John Paul Leon, yet another creator we lost just last year. The Milestone Initiative program, whose inaugural class is highlighted in the documentary, was created to nurture similar potential new talent so if this new generation is anything like the original, we can expect big things.
Praise all around to director Justice A. Whitaker and story producer Evan Narcisse and everyone involved in the production of this Milestone Generations documentary.Comment + Permalink
If superheroes existed in the real world, and they were Black, what would happen?
That’s the core concept of Icon, which challenges the whole of the superhero genre. Created in 1993 by Dwayne McDuffie, Derek T. Dingle, Michael Davis and Denys Cowan as one of the launch titles of their Milestone Media comic book lineup, Icon tells the story of Augustus Freeman IV, a black lawyer living well in the city of Dakota but who’s secretly an extraterrestrial being who’s lived among humanity since the Civil War. However, the real star of the book is Augustus’ teenage partner Raquel Ervin, a.k.a. Rocket. It was Raquel who convinced Augustus to take on the identity of Icon and together they clean up the streets as a superheroic duo.
Over the course of their initial series, Icon and Rocket tackle issues that weren’t often found in mainstream superhero comics at that time. In issue #1, they’re confronted by a racist police force. By the end of issue #2, Rocket discovers she’s pregnant. The book contrasted their views on superheroes with other Milestone characters like Hardware and the Blood Syndicate. It even included satire with an affectionate parody of DC’s esteemed competition by way of a tiara-wearing, slogan-shouting crimefighter named “Buck Wild.” But at the heart of the series was the goal of meaningful representation, which it accomplished by believably featuring characters that speak towards the real-world concerns of those who don’t often see themselves represented in comic books.
That mission statement has been updated for today’s volatile world in Icon & Rocket: Season One, which is now available as a graphic novel. Written by Reginald Hudlin and Leon Chills and featuring art by Doug Braithwaite, this new series retells the origin story of our heroic pair, but quickly moves to address modern-day concerns.
In the 2020s, Black heroes are less of an unknown quantity, but would their methods still differ? Right away, Icon and Rocket attack every drug dealer, pusher, smuggler and hustler in Dakota, before taking their fight over to the poppy fields of Afghanistan. This catches the attention of the local news, which is more concerned with finding out the duo’s secret identities rather than relishing in their success winning the drug war. Police quickly investigate Raquel’s home and harass her mother. In Washington, the President is advised that Icon’s assault on drugs had resulted in devasting ramifications for the global economy, which for decades had relied upon the needs of the downtrodden to fuel certain facets of governmental control. Contingencies are put into place to find out what Icon’s true motives may be and how to stop him—permanently if need be.
It’s an intense vision of government’s paranoia at a large-scale rejection of capitalism, and—to borrow from the great Public Enemy—their fear of a Black planet. Through flashbacks we’re shown that Augustus’ war against slavery created the myths of the inhuman negro, bolstering the continuation of racism through his overpowered actions. This revelation confronts a criticism of the Icon of old, for if the character lived through the Civil War, why didn’t he definitively end slavery when he could? It’s a question directly thrown at the title character, and like many scenes throughout the miniseries’ six issues, it’s one without a given answer. The team of Hudlin and Braithwaite want the reader to engage with the hypotheticals and ponder what a world with Icon and Rocket might mean for their current present and possible future.
The story is told at a fast pace over its six chapters, but the essentials are delivered with enough time for the reader to consider the next problem. Icon and Rocket are heroes within their community, and that grants the lower-class citizens of Dakota the courage to stand up for themselves against those who would do them harm, whether its local gangsters or the United States government. Despite the violent reactions from the police and even some super-powered reinforcements sent to eliminate Icon, the positive outcome that Raquel promised Augustus—that people find their inner strength when given an example to look up to—proves true. Her calling to help the people benefits her community in ways never before seen in the world. Of course, the answers she finds only lead to more questions, as issues of society continually challenge her and Icon on a mental and spiritual level. It’s more than enough for the revitalization of a series that aims to tell stories well beyond those of the average costumed hero.
With Icon & Rocket: Season One, the creative team has brought Milestone’s most powerful hero into the modern day, challenging the readers’ very idea of right and wrong, good and evil on a level that resonates today. With more than enough action and commentary on the complexity of today’s problems, this is a series that can’t be missed for fans of smart superhero storytelling, whether they’re longtime Icon fans or new to his world, which feels more essential than ever.
Donovan Morgan Grant writes about comics, graphic novels and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @donoDMG1.Comment + Permalink