At this year’s 17th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival, presented by BET Networks, numerous attendees were seeking the funk. One of the event’s most anticipated films, Finding the Funk was screened and brought out stars including George Clinton of Parliament Funkadelic, Nona Hendryx, Melvin Van Peebles and Questlove. With the project author, filmmaker and producer, Nelson George presents a documentary that explores the history and impact of funk from James Brown to some of hip-hop’s biggest stars.
Since its peak in the 1970s, funk bands have significantly decreased in mainstream visibility and commercial success. This has occurred despite funk music being frequently sampled by hip-hop artists such as Public Enemy, Shock G and Snoop Dogg. Through his film, George hopes to redirect attention from the debate as to whether or not funk music is dead, to the need for music education. “The problem is music education in the schools,” he says. “In funk there was twenty bands. We have lost that legacy of popular Black bands and that’s what the film argues—to bring it back and reintroduce that idea.”
Questlove believes that beyond music education there needs to be a greater understanding and appreciation of funk music and history. “Usually with Black culture we embrace something for seven years and then it’s like we never knew it. You can embrace newness but people should not dispose of what came beforehand.”
Funk aficionados will be pleased to hear that there is an authorized documentary in the works about one of the genre’s seminal figures, Betty Davis. George revealed that Davis is working with a production team to finally tell her story after virtually remaining out of the public eye for over thirty years.
One of the reasons Davis remains a highly admired figure is her courage as a nonconformist who challenged the status quo. Also challenging the system are twin brothers and founders of V-Twinz Productions, Sai and Venk Varadan. Their film, An American in Hollywood debuted at the festival to a sold-out crowd. The movie’s topic of young filmmakers of color trying to find success in Hollywood resonates deeply with Sai and Venk who have faced obstacles due to being of Indian descent. “The reality is in Hollywood if you got brown skin, black hair and black eyes it is hard to be represented,” says Venk.
Lack of diversity does not just occur in Hollywood though. Sai states that Bollywood—based in India and one of the largest film centers in the world—is also known to exclude authentic depictions of various cultures and backgrounds. “Bollywood suffers from the same issues as Hollywood. There is misrepresentation and falsified imagery on their screens,” he says. “This is a global issue. So as real artists in a creative and nonviolent way we want to show American audiences that we know your problems and we are gonna speak for you.”
With the new season of Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse on OWN, viewers can expect major drama from the scorned and bitter character, Keisha played by actress, Kiki Haynes. But in her private life, the former executive assistant and leasing agent is nothing but grateful and satisfied with a role that is giving her new opportunities to give back. “The blessing of following my passion of acting has given me the notoriety to segue into becoming a motivational speaker,” she says. “In between filming the show, I have truly picked up a love for inspiring others to go after their dreams. I speak at acting workshops, schools, universities and special events. I've also begun teaching [acting] classes as well.”
Sharing well-learned life lessons is the premise for the forthcoming book by Terrence J, titled Wealth of My Mother’s Wisdom. The E! News host and actor opens up about his relationship with his mother and in the process offers insight into cultivating the values of courage, dreams, loyalty and perseverance. In the book, celebrity friends including T.I., Trey Songz, Kevin Hart and Ludacris also share their thoughts on the important relationship between mothers and sons. To kick-off the book’s release on Tuesday Oct 1, Terrence J will sign copies at MIST Harlem beginning at 7 pm in an event presented by Hue-Man Bookstore. [Full Disclosure: writer serves as the event’s host].
The weekly column, On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture and entertainment scene in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of event/media content production company, Souleo Enterprises, LLC.