Yuri Kochiyama Never Went Hollywood

Hollywood distorts just about everything. When wealthy people get together and decide to green light a movie they do so because they believe it will make them money, not because a particular version of the truth needs to be told. With money as the motivating factor often times beautiful people with minimal talent are casted in leading roles, scripts are seriously altered in an attempt to make events more melodramatic, and sometimes very righteous people are completely removed from history.


It wasn’t until my first year of graduate school during a class discussion that I learned that the lady who cradled the head of Malcolm X while he lay dying was not his wife Betty Shabazz but rather it was Japanese-American activist Yuri Kochiyama. Kochiyama remained a fixture on the Bay Area civil rights scene well past her 90th year. As a matter of fact I saw her at the world premiere of a documentary on the life of Richard Aoki at The Grand Lake Theater in 2009. Yuri Kochiyama died in Berkeley on June 1, 2014 in Berkeley, CA.


I think about how a more realistic depiction of the death of Malcolm X would have changed the black and white perception of The Civil Rights Movement. What if Lucy Liu would have been the lady weeping over Denzel Washington’s body instead of Angela Bassett? Would that have been too difficult for the American public to digest? Is reality too complicated to understand? Americans love looking at the real world as if it were a comic book—Black vs. white and good vs. evil—which always ends in an overly simplistic view of society.

African-Americans should realize that the Rodney King Riots in 1992 probably would have been suppressed within a day if it were not for the general empathy and participation of the Spanish-speaking citizens of Los Angeles. Similarly Mexican-Americans should understand that the United Farm Workers of America would not have been nearly as powerful were it not for the involvement of Filipino farm workers who also suffered under the same wretched conditions as day laborers in California and who had also had enough of it.


So Spike Lee made an executive decision to insert a sobbing Angela Bassett into a death scene instead of writing an Asian-American actor into the script. That doesn’t minimize the accomplishments of Yuri Kochiyama, however, it does reduce the potency of her legacy. After all Americans learn their history from the movies not from books. It’s rather pathetic that a woman can be down for the cause until the age of 93 and most conscious people don’t even know who she is. The power of Hollywood is immeasurable


RIP Yuri Kochiyama



Blaxploitation 2013

I never really liked the old Dolomite movies my uncle used to watch on VHS, but I did have an affinity for The Mack starring Max Julian. Even as a young child (come to think of it I was probably way too young to be watching a movie about a gangster pimp. At any rate…) I thought Goldy, the lead character, was the coolest thing walking. The fact that it was filmed in my hometown of Oakland, CA also factored into my enchantment with the movie. My uncle dug Goldy too. He was into the loud clothes, and the flamboyant hats. He liked the classic pimp lines like; “Mutha ****** can you buy that?” and “Next time you hear grown folks talking shut the **** up hear!”


This was of course before Spike Lee, John Singleton, and a few others began trying to make dignified movies about black people trapped in American ghettos. So for my uncle’s generation if you wanted to see black folks on the big screen you had to see African-American culture as interpreted by a few white men. What I mean by that is that The Mack as well as almost all other Blaxploitation movies were written, directed, casted and produced by middle aged white dudes. The objective of these movies was not to show the humanity of the characters but rather it was to make the most money possible and to do it in a way that was completely nonthreatening to white America.

In today’s “post racial society” one would assume that America has moved far beyond these one-dimensional cultural snap shots. But then again if one were to do so then one would be absolutely wrong.

21st century entertainment has been sabotaged by the viral video. No matter if it’s someone rapping, mocking his girlfriend, or fighting, it’s all about how many views you generate. In fact the lure of the viral video has become so strong that even news media has gotten involved. Every year a new African-American eyewitness to a crime becomes the latest Internet celebrity. From Antoine Dodson to Sweet Brown to Charles Ramsey— all of them represent that loud, attitude having, unemployed, unlettered African-American’s that our White-American counterparts can never seem to get enough of. In essence they are the latest form of Blaxploitation.


I have no idea how respectable news outlets around the country can get away with showing black people with scarves on their heads screaming and yelling in unnecessarily dramatic fashion and pass it off as an honest account of what took place. And in the case of Antoine Dodson they even conducted a secondary interview. Since when did crime become comedy? Since when did the 5 o’clock news become Showtime at the Apollo? Just like Superfly, Shaft, and Goldy the Mack, nothing should be taken too seriously when it comes out of the mouth of a black person. It’s strictly for entertainment purposes only.