Saturday, February 24, 2018

Signs of the Times . . .

Six editorial cartoons addressing
the destructive power of the NRA
and the latest movement that's risen
to challenge it.

Related Off-site Links:
More Kids Are Dead – Charles P. Pierce (Esquire, February 15, 2018).
Days After High School Shooting, Florida House Votes Against Ban on Assault Rifles – Associated Press via PBS Newshour (February 20, 2018).
Shooting Survivor Calls NRA "Child Murderers" – CNN (February 19, 2018).
A Spreading Movement? How Florida School Shooting Survivors Are Inspiring Other Students to Demand Gun Control – Matt Pearce (The Los Angeles Times, February 20, 2018).
How the Survivors of Parkland Began the Never Again Movement – Emily Witt (The New Yorker, February 19, 2018).
The Spring Awakening of the Stoneman Douglas Theatre Kids – Michael Schulman (The New Yorker, February 23, 2018).
America's Youth Become America's Conscience on Gun Violence – Rachel Maddow (MSNBC, February 22, 2018).
The NRA Just Became the Enemy of a Generation of Younger Americans – Dean Obeidallah (The Daily Kos, February 23, 2018).
CNN’s Town Hall on Guns and the Unmaking of Marco Rubio – Evan Osnos (The New Yorker, February 22, 2018).
NRA Head Breaks Silence to Attack Gun Control Advocates: "They Hate Individual Freedom" – David Smith (The Guardian, February 22, 2018).
Michael Moore: "The NRA Is a Terrorist Organization" – Tracy Lee (Newsweek via Yahoo! News, February 23, 2018).
Right-wing Media Uses Parkland Shooting as Conspiracy Fodder – Michael M. Grynbaumfe (The New York Times, February 20, 2018).
The Right-wing Sliming of Douglas High Students Can’t Be Ignored. It’s Too Disgusting for That – Margaret Sullivan (The Washington Post, February 21, 2018).
Trump Insists on Arming Teachers Despite Lack of Evidence It Would Stop Shootings – Amanda Holpuch (The Guardian, February 22, 2018).
Businesses Are Fleeing the NRA in Wake of Parkland School Shooting – Cody Fenwick, (Alternet via Salon, February 23, 2018).
Here Are All the Brands That Have Cut Ties with the NRA Following Gun-control Activists' Boycotts – Kate Taylor and Leanna Garfield (Business Insider, February 23, 2018).
Trump Aides Confess: He Only Hears the NRA – Asawin Suebsaeng (The Daily Beast, February 22, 2018).
Men Are Responsible for Mass Shootings: How Toxic Masculinity Is Killing Us – Jennifer Wright (Harper's Bazaar, February 16, 2018).
Poll: Support for Gun Control Hits Record High – Dartunorro Clark (NBC News, February 20, 2018).
12 Tweets on Gun Violence and Mental Health That Everyone Should Read – Lindsay Holmes (The Huffington Post, February 23, 2018).
More Than 17 Cartoons About the Shootings That'll Make You Cry, Cringe, Call a (February 20, 2018).
This Single Cartoon About School Shootings Is Breaking People's Hearts – Samantha Schmidt (The Washington Post, February 20, 2018).
We Need to Talk About Black Lives and Gun Violence After the Florida Shooting – Sarah Ruiz-Grossman (The Huffington Post, February 22, 2018).
Black Teens Have Been Fighting for Gun Reform for Years – Lincoln Anthony Blades (Teen Vogue, February 23, 2018).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Social Roots of Yet Another American Tragedy
Something to Think About – December 14, 2012
Quote of the Day – December 15, 2012
“I Pray, I Pray”
Prayer of the Week – June 19, 2016
Quote of the Day – October 2, 2017
Quote of the Day – February 17, 2018

Friday, February 23, 2018

In Minneapolis, a Snowy February Friday

Earlier today the Star Tribune's Paul Douglas wrote the following about last night's (and tomorrow's) snowfall.

Storms spinning up in late February and March have different characteristics than low pressure systems in January. A higher sun angle and milder temperatures tends to keep freeways wet and slushy, unlike January, when roads are snow-covered and icy. Snow is wetter, heavier, slushier; with a higher water content. Better for snowball fights (and heart attacks).

Be careful out there this morning as the flakes subside. We have about 24 hours to catch our breath and scrape away the snow, before the second storm arrives. Another 4-7 inches of snow may fall late Saturday, bringing the total from both storms up close to a foot at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. By Sunday many towns will be snowier than average, for the first time all winter. That's good news, considering western Minnesota is too dry; we need moisture for spring planting.

As of Thursday [yesterday] snowfall in the Twin Cities was 31.8", or 7.7" less than average, to date (running 30-year average). After last night's snow and what's to come on Saturday I have a hunch we may be a couple inches snowier than average by Sunday. Just a gut call.

Saturday: More snow than last night? Models all seem to suggest a bigger snow accumulation for the PM hours Saturday. Plowable, and if we do wind up with 7-8" possibly the second biggest snowfall of the winter, to date.

Related Off-site Links:
Ready for Round Two? Six to Nine Inches of Snow Expected Saturday Night -- Tim Harlow (Star Tribune, February 23, 2018).
Saturday Snow Blitz on the Way -- Paul Huttner (MPR News, February 23, 2018).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Winter of Content
Winter Beauty
Winter Light
Winter Storm (2016)
Winter Storm (2012)
Shadows and Light
Winter . . . Within and Beyond

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Happy Birthday, Buffy!

Above: Buffy and guitarist Anthony King performing at the Big Top Chautauqua, Bayfield, WI on Saturday, August 27, 2016. (Photo: Michael J. Bayly)

Singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie turns 77 today.

Happy Birthday, Buffy!

As regulars readers will know, I’ve long admired Buffy Sainte-Marie and enjoyed her music. Indeed, I find her to be a very inspiring figure. (I even chose her song "It's My Way" as my theme song when I turned 50 in 2015!)

Left: With Buffy after her August 26, 2016 performance at The Dakota in Minneapolis.

I particularly appreciate and am inspired by Buffy's passion and purposefulness – and by the way she blends her art and social activism. I’ve seen her four times in concert, and had the privilege of meeting and talking with her at three of these events. She’s creative, articulate, warm, and funny – a very human human being, in other words.

Buffy's most recent album is the Juno-nominated Medicine Songs (2017), about which Buffy says the following.

[Medicine Songs] is a collection of front line songs about unity and resistance – some brand new and some classics – and I want to put them to work. These are songs I've been writing for over fifty years, and what troubles people today are still the same damn issues from 30-40-50 years ago: war, oppression, inequity, violence, rankism of all kinds, the pecking order, bullying, racketeering and systemic greed. Some of these songs come from the other side of that: positivity, common sense, romance, equity and enthusiasm for life.

[. . .] I really want this collection of songs to be like medicine, to be of some help or encouragement, to maybe do some good. Songs can motivate you and advance your own ideas, encourage and support collaborations and be part of making change globally and at home. They do that for me and I hope this album can be positive and provide thoughts and remedies that rock your world and inspire new ideas of your own.

For The Wild Reed's special post featuring highlights from a number of reviews of Medicine Songs, along with an insightful interview with Buffy, click here.

Above: Buffy, tuning her guitar between songs at her August 27, 2016 performance in Bayfield, WI. (Photo: Michael J. Bayly)

Here's an interesting little aside: In January of 2017 I participated in the Women's March in St. Paul, MN. It was an event that drew an estimated 100,000 people to the Minnesota State Capitol grounds and it's believed to have been one of the largest protest gatherings in Minnesota history. The march was part of a nationwide surge of massive rallies and marches aimed at both protesting President Donald Trump’s positions and statements on women’s rights, immigration, the environment, and climate change AND offering hope and alternatives to Trump's political agenda.

I had decided about a week before the march that I wanted to carry a sign that shared a positive message from an inspiring woman. I therefore decided on words of hope and encouragement from Buffy! They're actually lyrics from her song "Getting Started" (from her phenomenal 1992 album Coincidence and Likely Stories). The image incorporated in my sign is one I took of Buffy when I saw her in concert in Bayfield, WI the previous summer. The original photo opens this post.

Womb-world paradigm
Understand in time
It’s a sweet investigation
We’re learning rope by rope
Climbing hope by hope
In every combination

And that’s okay
No, it’s not the way it "should be"
But that’s okay
It’s wild and it’s unique
And that’s okay
Yeah, love’s the magic number
And that’s okay
Come on, we’re only getting started . . .

– Buffy Sainte-Marie
Excerpted from “Getting Started”
(from the 1992 album, Coincidence and Likely Stories)

For more about the making of my sign, click here. For photos and commentary on the St. Paul Women's March, click here.

John Grissim, Jr.'s portrait of Buffy with her guitar, above, was taken in the early 1970s. At around the same time Victoria Coppe wrote the following for The Buffy Sainte-Marie Songbook (1971). They're words that are as true today as they were 47 years ago!

Talking to Buffy Sainte-Marie is listening to thoughts, touching emotions, running into moods before the music inside her finds them too and "the gods tap dance on her head" that night and the next day there's a song. "Until It's Time for You to Go," "My Country, 'Tis of Thy People You're Dying," "Soldier Blue," "Jeremiah," "I Wanna Hold Your Hand Forever." The stuff that her albums, sold internationally, are made of.

But she's not a songwriter she'll tell you. She's just someone who wakes up when the dancing starts, listens to her head, and writes down what she hears. "Songs go by the times when I don't. But it's hard not to get up. Hearing a song in your head in the middle of the night is like trying to ignore a whale in your bathtub. You have to do something with it. You think once it's out, once it's written, it's over. But it's not. You continue to retch."

Be there when she tells the story of man's inhumanity to man, "Now That the Buffalo's Gone," and you'll understand. The message reaches her audience, and the fragile artist's forceful delivery brings them to their feet. But Buffy Sainte-Marie – while the applause thunders – is stilling the storm inside her.

When she performs in concert across the country, records in Nashville, or listens as another artist renders the whales that keep her up at nights, she's angered, she's loved, she's hurt, she's warmed, she's made to laugh, she's made to remember anywhere from her childhood and on all over again.

That's what Buffy Sainte-Marie sings about in fragile whispers bearing love, and anguished, quivering cries that question, plead, haunt, and accuse. She bares her thoughts, her emotions, her moods, her experiences. And because of her sensitivity to the experiences of others, theirs, too.

I close this post with a video of Buffy singing her Oscar Award-winning song that she co-wrote with Jack Nitzsche and Will Jennings. Yes, it's "Up Where We Belong," from the 1982 film, An Officer and a Gentleman.

"Up Where We Belong" was, of course, made famous by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes. This particular performance by Buffy is, as she says, "the songwriter's version." It's from her 1996 CBC special, also entitled Up Where We Belong.

Who knows what tomorrow brings
In a world where few hearts survive
All I know is the way I feel
If it's real, keep it alive
The road is long
There are mountains in our way
But we climb a step every day

Love lift us up where we belong
Where the eagles cry
On a mountain high
Love lift us up where we belong
Far from the worlds we know
Up where the clear winds blow

Some hang on to used-to-be
They live their lives looking behind
When all we have is here and now
All our lives, out there to find
The road is long
And there are mountains in our way
But we climb a step every day

Time goes by, no time to cry
Life's you and I alive today

– Jack Nitzsche, Buffy Sainte-Marie
and Will Jennings

For The Wild Reed's special series of posts leading-up to the November 10, 2017 release of Medicine Songs, see:
For Acclaimed Songwriter, Activist and Humanitarian Buffy Sainte-Marie, the World is Always Ripening
Buffy Sainte-Marie: "I'm Creative Anywhere"
Buffy Sainte-Marie Headlines SummerStage Festival in NYC's Central Park
Buffy Sainte-Marie, "One of the Best Performers Out Touring Today"
The Music of Buffy Sainte-Marie: "Uprooting the Sources of Disenfranchisement"
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Medicine Songs

For The Wild Reed's special series of posts leading-up to the May 12, 2015 release of Buffy's award-winning album, Power in the Blood, see:
Buffy Sainte-Marie and That "Human-Being Magic"
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Lesson from the Cutting Edge: "Go Where You Must to Grow"
Buffy Sainte-Marie: "Sometimes You Have to Be Content to Plant Good Seeds and Be Patient"
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Power in the Blood

For more of Buffy Sainte-Marie at The Wild Reed, see:
A Music Legend Visits the North Country: Buffy Sainte-Marie in Minnesota and Wisconsin – August 2016
Two Exceptional Singers Take a Chance on the "Spirit of the Wind"
Photo of the Day – January 21, 2017
Buffy Sainte-Marie Wins 2015 Polaris Music Prize
Congratulations, Buffy
Happy Birthday, Buffy!
Actually, There's No Question About It
For Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Well-Deserved Honor
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Singing It and Praying It; Living It and Saying It
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Still Singing with Spirit, Joy, and Passion
Something Special for Indigenous Peoples Day
Buffy Sainte-Marie: "The Big Ones Get Away"

Related Off-site Links:
Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jess Moskaluke, and The Dead South Lead Saskatchewan Artists Nominated for Junos – Spencer Leigh (The Independent, January 9, 2018)
Buffy Sainte-Marie: "I Constantly Ask Myself, Where Are the Great Protest Songs of Today? Are People Deaf and Blind?"Regina Leader-Post, (February 6, 2018).
Music as Medicine: Buffy Sainte-Marie Talks Politics, Sex Scandals and Her Brand New Album – Rosanna Deerchild (CBC Radio's Unreserved, November 19, 2017)
Buffy Sainte-Marie Takes a Stand with Medicine SongsET Canada (November 30, 2017).
Buffy Sainte-Marie Makes Music for a New Generation of Activists – Tom Power (CBC Radio, November 17, 2017).
The Unbreakable Buffy Sainte-Marie: A Candid Conversation with the Resilient Songwriter and Activist – Whitney Phaneuf (Acoustic Guitar, January 18, 2017).

Monday, February 19, 2018

Quote of the Day

Over the past decade, the Catholic laity (at least in the U.S.) have consistently polled positively when asked about LGBTQ issues. The people in the pews are obviously leading the way in the church on LGBTQ issues. The change at the grassroots means that eventually change will have to take place at higher levels of the church.

– Francis DeBernardo
Excerpted from "Poll Results: Is the Catholic Church
Becoming More or Less Accepting of LGBT People?
Bondings 2.0
February 19, 2018

Related Off-site Link:
When Will the Catholic Church End Its War on Gays? – Michael Hamar (Michael in Norfolk, February 18, 2018).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Catholic Attitudes on Gay and Lesbian Issues: An Overview
Beyond the Hierarchy: The Blossoming of Liberating Catholic Insights on Sexuality
"The Church is Better Because of the Presence of LGBT People"
Catholic Theologian: "Heterosexism, Not Homosexuality, is the Problem"
What the Vatican Can Learn from the X-Men
Progressive Catholic Perspectives on the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 Marriage Equality Ruling
On the First Anniversary of Marriage Equality in Minnesota, a Celebratory Look Back at the Important Role Played by Catholics
Catholics Recognize and Celebrate the Truth of Transgender People: “Their Quest for Authenticity Is a Quest for Holiness"
An Inspiring Evening of Conversation and Camaraderie
Quote of the Day – November 14, 2014

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Important Cultural Moment That Is Black Panther

I saw the film Black Panther this past Thursday night and I have to say I thought it was very good. And it wasn't just the movie I appreciated, but also how many of the African-Americans audience members came dressed in traditional African attire, and how happy and excited they were at the prospect of seeing a movie that is clearly very important and meaningful to them and indeed anyone who longs for a world were all are recognized, represented, and valued. Black Panther plays a big role in ushering in such a world. Accordingly, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that its making and release signify an important cultural moment.

But why exactly?, you may ask. . . . Well, Black Panther is the first film of the Marvel cinematic universe to place a black superhero front and centre. It also features a black director (Ryan Coogler) and a majority black cast (including Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya, Lupita Nyong’o, and Forest Whitaker). In addition, it explores questions and issues about race and identity to a depth never before attempted by a film in the "superhero" genre.

To celebrate these milestones, I share a compilation of excerpts from some of the most erudite and insightful reviews and commentaries I've come across concerning the important cultural moment that is Black Panther.



Black Panther has become the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie featured on the cover of TIME Magazine, with Chadwick Boseman pictured as the new King of Wakanda, T’Challa. The Black Panther movie was always going to be a big deal, but there was no guarantee that it would honor the source material and/or resonate with audiences. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of creatives like writer/director Ryan Coogler, Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rachel Morrison, and stars like Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, and Forest Whitaker, the Black Panther solo film is well on its way to becoming both a cultural and financial juggernaut.

Black Panther has now broken Fandago’s pre-sale record for first quarter films, as well as that for superhero movie pre-release ticket sales in general. It looks like the film will hit somewhere in the ballpark of $150 million domestically over its 4-day opening frame, giving it one of the MCU’s biggest solo debuts to date. In addition, early reviews for Black Panther praise the movie for being not only a socially and politically important superhero blockbuster, but an entertaining and action-packed one as well. Now, the movie can add another bona fide.

– Matthew Erao
Excerpted from "Black Panther is First MCU Movie
to Receive TIME Magazine Cover
Screen Rant
February 8, 2018, 2017

Above: Writer and director Ryan Coogler with actor Chadwick Boseman
on the set of Black Panther. (Photo: Entertainment Weekly)

What seems like just another entry in an endless parade of super­hero movies is actually something much bigger. Black Panther hasn’t even hit theaters yet and its cultural footprint is already enormous. It’s a movie about what it means to be black in both America and Africa – and, more broadly, in the world. Rather than dodge complicated themes about race and identity, the film grapples head-on with the issues affecting modern-day black life. It is also incredibly entertaining, filled with timely comedy, sharply choreographed action and gorgeously lit people of all colors. “You have superhero films that are gritty dramas or action comedies,” director Ryan Coogler tells TIME. But this movie, he says, tackles another important genre: “Superhero films that deal with issues of being of African descent.”

[. . .] The movie, out February 16, comes as the entertain­ment industry is wrestling with its toxic treatment of women and persons of color. This rapidly expanding reckoning – one that reflects the importance of representation in our culture – is long overdue. Black Panther is poised to prove to Hollywood that African-American narratives have the power to generate profits from all audiences. And, more important, that making movies about black lives is part of showing that they matter. [. . .] In the midst of a regressive cultural and political moment fueled in part by the white-nativist movement, the very existence of Black Panther feels like resistance. Its themes challenge institutional bias, its characters take unsubtle digs at oppressors, and its narrative includes prismatic perspectives on black life and tradition. The fact that Black Panther is excellent only helps.

– Jamil Smith
Excerpted from "The Revolutionary Power of Black Panther"
TIME Magazine
February 19, 2018

Above: The principal cast of Black Panther. From left: Forest Whitaker as Zuri, Michael B. Jordan as N'Jadaka / Erik "Killmonger" Stevens, Daniel Kaluuya as W'Kabi, Lupita Nyong'o as Nakia, Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa / Black Panther, Angela Bassett as Ramonda, T'Challa's mother and the Queen Mother of Wakanda, Danai Gurira as Okoye, and Letitia Wright as Shuri, T'Challa's younger sister.

TIt's finally here – and it couldn't have come at a better time. Black Panther is an epic that doesn't walk, talk or kick ass like any other Marvel movie – an exhilarating triumph on every level from writing, directing, acting, production design, costumes, music, special effects to you name it. For children (and adults) of color who have longed forever to see a superhero who looks like them, Marvel's first black-superhero film is an answered prayer, a landmark adventure and a new film classic.

But wait a minute: Hasn't Black Panther been around since the 1960s, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created him for the comics? So why did it take half a century for Marvel to get him up on screen? Chadwick Boseman already played this superhero in 2016's Captain America: Civil War, a supporting role in a Marvel Comic Universe best categorized as #AvengersSoWhite. That's all in the past. There's no sidekick or second-banana status here. The spotlight is all his – and his stand-alone, solo outing is history in the making.

Thrillingly and thoughtfully directed and written (with Joe Robert Cole) by Ryan Coogler, the film lights up the screen with a full-throttle blast of action and fun. That's to be expected. But what sneaks up and floors you is the film's racial conscience and profound, astonishing beauty. Not just a correction for years of diversity neglect, it's a big budget blockbuster that digs into the roots of blackness itself. Coogler, 31, has proved his skills behind the camera with Fruitvale Station and Creed, but in Black Panther he journeys into the heart of Africa to bring a new world to the screen. The result feels revolutionary.

– Peter Travers
Excerpted from "Black Panther Review:
Marvel's History-Making Superhero Movie's a Masterpiece
Rolling Stone
February 6, 2018

Above: Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa / Black Panther.

Yes, Black Panther is another multizillion-dollar installment in the burgeoning Marvel Cinematic Universe. But that is not all that it is. Other superhero movies have dabbled in big ideas – the Dark Knight trilogy most notably, and the X-Men franchise to a lesser degree. But their commitments to the moral and political questions they contemplated were relatively haphazard and/or peripheral. The arguments Black Panther undertakes with itself are central to its architecture, a narrative spine that runs from the first scene to the last.

[. . .] It is notable, too, that so many of the film’s central characters are female. In a spirit journey, T’Challa speaks with his dead father, who counsels him to “surround yourself with people you trust.” T’Challa follows this advice and, as a result, surrounds himself almost exclusively with women. On a brief, Bondian foray to a casino in Busan, South Korea, T’Challa brings along Nakia and Okoye as teammates. A later mission has a still-greater female/male ratio of three-to-one. This is a film that does not merely pass the Bechdel test, it demolishes it. Moreover, there is an uncommon richness to the female characters, in their interactions both with T’Challa – as mother, as sister, as ex-lover, as bodyguard – and with one another.

[. . .] In T’Challa’s spirit dream, his father also offers the advice that “it’s hard for a good man to be king.” Which raises the question: Is it hard for a good movie to be king? If the formidable box office predictions for Black Panther are remotely accurate, the answer will be a resounding no – and quite rightly so. All hail the new king.

– Christopher Orr
Excerpted from "Black Panther Is More Than a Superhero Movie"
The Atlantic
February 16, 2018

Black Panther, the latest entry in Marvel’s shared cinematic universe, is a remarkable feat of world building and visual craft. Its setting, the fictional central African nation of Wakanda, is a technologically advanced wonderland light years ahead of the rest of the world that lives and breathes unlike anything we’ve seen from Marvel Studios or the superhero genre at large. Its protagonist, King T’Challa – who fights in defense of his nation as the Black Panther, equipped with a bulletproof suit and imbued with enhanced strength, speed, and agility – is played with both regal confidence and real vulnerability by the versatile Chadwick Boseman.

But what drives Black Panther isn’t its visuals or superheroics. What drives the film is its pursuit of the idea that arguably defines the superhero genre, best articulated in 1962’s Amazing Fantasy No. 15: “With great power comes great responsibility.” And what makes Black Panther unique is that it pursues this in the context of its characters and its setting. It asks not just, “What is T’Challa’s responsibility to Wakanda?” but “What is Wakanda’s responsibility to the world?”

[. . .] Of course, Black Panther isn’t a political thriller. [Its] conflicts and tensions play out in action as much as dialogue, and the ideas come naturally. There are no mouthpieces speaking on behalf of the writers. But it is fair to say that Black Panther is the most political movie ever produced by Marvel Studios, both in its very existence – it’s the most expensive movie to have ever starred an almost entirely black cast – and in the questions its story raises.

– Jamelle Bouie
Excerpted from "Black Panther Will Thrill You
– and It Will Make You Think
February 15, 2018

Above: T'Challa / Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) returns to Wakanda after a rescue mission with Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira).

Evan Narcisse, who co-writes the miniseries Rise of the Black Panther with Ta-Nehisi Coates, says he views Wakanda as the representation of an “unbroken chain of achievement of black excellence that never got interrupted by colonialism.” Narcisse’s work also filters Wakanda through the prism of Haiti, the revolutionary home of black liberation in the New World.

Even before his modern rejuvenation, T’Challa and his comic-book homeland offered up the same kind of representations of difficult concepts. As Jamil Smith writes for Time, the character of the Black Panther — the first black comic-book superhero — was created in 1966 during the civil-rights movement and very much represented “a vision of black grandeur and, indeed, power in a trying time.” His creation also coincided with the interconnected rise of both the Black Power movement and a second wave of Pan-Africanism and nationalism. Though created by white writers and shepherded through eras of embarrassing racial stereotyping and caricature, Black Panther the comic has always been notable for the cultural valences of creating a bulletproof, super-rich, erudite, and aggressively independent black hero, and for its willingness to fathom black geopolitical power.

In almost every facet of production, from wardrobe and costume design to the film’s score, Coogler’s Black Panther takes that thread of power and spins it into a diaspora’s fantasy.

– Vann R. Newkirk II
Excerpted from "The Provocation and Power of Black Panther"
The Atlantic
February 14, 2018

As comic book lore dictates, Wakanda is rich with a valuable material, known as vibranium, that many other countries would aim to exploit if it weren’t for T’Challa’s fiercely protective father, T’Chaka, who enacted a strict isolationist policy for the country. Black Panther’s early appearances in the comics depicted a Wakanda that holds steadfast to specific African tribal traditions (he’s referenced as a “hereditary chieftain” in Fantastic Four No. 52, where he first appears), yet T’Challa still enjoys the comforts that being the leader of an uber-wealthy nation brings. Wakanda is imagined as a country that is untouched by the evils of colonialism, quite literally hidden away.

This aspect of the fantasy is key. White America’s ongoing obsession with British royals remains oddly prevalent. The marketing of (mostly white) princesses and happy endings remain a lucrative machine for Disney. But this isn’t either of those things. For decades, black people have been left to wonder what might have been were it not for the ravaging influences of colonialism. Invoking kings and queens is often a defiantly political act, and Black Panther is an exaggerated exploration of pride in something that has been taken away.

– Derreck Johnson
Excerpted from "Why Black America Loves Depictions
of Black Royalty. And Why We Need Them
February 14, 2018

Above: Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa / Black Panther and Angela Bassett as Ramonda, T'Challa's mother and the Queen Mother of Wakanda.

Black Panther, an adaptation of the iconic comic book that has been decades in coming, proves to be more than worth the wait. This lush, impressively well-acted film, about an African king learning how best to marshal the superpowers with which he’s been endowed, comes draped in anticipation, not only from hardcore fans of the source material, but also from filmgoers already steeped in breathless hype. Director Ryan Coogler, working with a script he co-wrote with Joe Robert Cole, doesn’t just meet but exceeds those expectations, delivering a film that fulfills the most rote demands of superhero spectacle, yet does so with style and subtexts that feel bracingly, joyfully groundbreaking.

[. . .] The difference with Black Panther is that, while observing the outlines of the traditional comic book arc, Coogler and his creative team have enlarged and revitalized it. Drawing on elements from African history and tribal culture, as well as contemporary and forward-looking flourishes, Black Panther pulses with color, vibrancy and layered textural beauty, from the beadwork and textiles of Ruth Carter’s spectacular costumes and Hannah Beachler’s warm, dazzlingly eye-catching production design to hairstyles, tattoos and scarifications that feel both ancient and novel.

Although the comic-book-movie universe might not seem to need yet another origin story, this one possesses urgency and genuine propulsive interest most others lack. Once T’Challa’s true challenge is revealed, Black Panther becomes something deeper than the mere formation of one superhero, engaging such subjects as: the legacy of co­lo­ni­al­ism; collective memory and interior geography; the tension between autonomy and social conscience; and the need for solidarity within an African diaspora at political and cultural odds with itself.

Make no mistake: Coogler doesn’t use Black Panther as an awkward delivery system for such Deep Ideas. Rather, he weaves them in organically and subtly.

– Ann Hornaday
Excerpted from "Black Panther is Exhilarating,
Groundbreaking and More Than Worth the Wait
The Washington Post
February 9, 2018

Above: T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Erik "Killmonger" Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) do ritualistic battle for the throne of Wakenda.

But how gay is [Black Panther]? It’s not. But it almost was.

[Danai] Gurira’s [character] Okoye, who is canonically gay in the Marvel World of Wakanda comics, was written as such in early drafts of Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole’s script. In the final film, however, Okoye is with W’Kabi, and the scene first noted as particularly queer in the original screenplay is gone. Cole confirmed that the gay love story was in there at some point, but was unclear as to why it was removed.

It’s an unfortunate removal from a movie that is boundary-pushing in so many other ways — one that so effortlessly talks about colonization, the obligation for the powerful to help the powerless, radicalization, and so on. To finally see LGBTQ representation in a Marvel movie would have added another powerful layer to an already powerful film. Black Panther isn’t a worse movie for the removal, but the choice does disappoint.

– Kevin O'Keefe
Excerpted from "But How Gay is Black Panther?
February 16, 2018

Above: Danai Gurira (left) as Okoye, head of the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces of Wakanda, who serve as T'Challa's bodyguards.

[In] bringing Wakanda to the screen [production designer Hannah Beachler and costume designer Ruth E. Carter] reached across the whole continent for inspiration, painting with a wide brush that shouts out to a broader African heritage with cultural roots scattered by the transatlantic slave trade – not necessarily speaking directly to any individual culture or real-life African country. There’s the Maasai beadwork, the Basotho blankets, the lip plates, the architecture inspired by ancient buildings from Timbuktu and Mali. What they built is a pan-African, afrofuturistic ode to the wider notion of African heritage, diaspora and all. And it’s all packaged in a massive superhero film that is undeniably the first of its kind.

There is a long history of Western portrayals of Africa conflating its thousands of incredibly diverse cultures, creating the false sense of Africa as a monolith. Through Black Panther, Marvel seems to have found a small loophole: Center the story on a fictional country built off the migration of tribes from all over the continent. Put it in the hands of a mostly black, already beloved creative team deeply invested in creating positive portrayals of blackness. Give them the resources and power to make something colorful, aspirational, epic in scope, and truly ambitious. Then welcome it into the world and take note of where it lands in history. If we’re lucky, this is only the beginning.

– Alanna Bennett
Excerpted from "Black Panther Is a Pan-African Medley
Aiming to Reframe the Narrative

February 15, 2018

Related Off-site Links:
The Evolution of Marvel’s Black Panther – Micah Peters (The Ringer, February 14, 2018).
Black Panther First Reactions: It's "Astonishing," "Iconic" and "Will Save Blockbusters" – Andrea Mandell USA Today (January 30, 2018).
Black Panther Brings Afrofuturism Into the Mainstream – Clarisse Loughrey (The Independent, February 14, 2018).
Black Panther Seeks to Inspire Not Incite Revolution – Stephen L. Carter (Bloomberg, February 18,2018)
Black Panther Actor Florence Kasumba Addresses the Movie’s Lack of Queer Representation – Jamie Broadnax and Abraham Riesman (Vulture, February 16, 2018).
Michael B. Jordan On His ‘Dark’ Preparation for Black Panther Role – Taryn Finley (The Huffington Post, January 30, 2018).
In Defense of Erik Killmonger and the Forgotten Children of Wakanda – Brooke Obie (Shadow and Act, February 17, 2018).
Black Voter Registration Effort Launched at Black Panther Screenings – Avery Anapol (The Hill, February 16, 2018).
Trolls Are Posting Fake Stories About Being Attacked at Black Panther Showings. Don’t Fall for Them – Hilary Hanson (The Huffington Post, February 17, 2018).
Black Panther Roars to a Record $192M First Weekend at the Box Office – Kim Willi (USA Today, February 18, 2018).
5 Lessons from Black Panther That Can Save Our Lives – and Transform Black Politics – Frank Leon Roberts (Medium, February 16, 2018).
A Wrinkle in Time's Representation Is Just as Important as Black Panther – Donyae Coles (Wear Your Voice, February 19, 2018).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Season of the (Scarlet) Witch
One Divine Hammer
What the Vatican Can Learn from the X-Men
The New Superman: Not Necessarily Gay, But Definitely Queer

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Quote of the Day

NOTE: Emma González is a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the scene of last Wednesday’s horrific mass shooting that killed 17 people. Earlier today, the 18-year-old gave an impassioned speech at a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale. Following is an excerpt.

If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should never have happened and maintain telling us how nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association.

But, hey, you want to know something? It doesn’t matter, because I already know. Thirty million dollars. And divided by the number of gunshot victims in the United States in the one and one-half months in 2018 alone, that comes out to being $5,800. Is that how much these people are worth to you, Trump? If you don’t do anything to prevent this from continuing to occur, that number of gunshot victims will go up and the number that they are worth will go down. And we will be worthless to you.

To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you.

[. . .] The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids and our parents seem to be the only ones who notice to call BS. Companies trying to make caricatures of the teenagers nowadays, saying that all we are is self-involved and trend-obsessed and they hush us into submission when our message doesn’t reach the ears of the nation, we are prepared to call BS. Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have ever been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say that tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS. They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS. They say that no laws could have been able to prevent the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS. That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call BS.

– Emma González
February 17, 2018

NEXT: Signs of the Times

Related Off-site Links and Updates:
After Florida, I Had Lost Hope. Then I Saw Emma González – Suzanne Moore (The Guardian, February 19, 2018).
Emma Gonzalez Survived the Florida Shooting. Now She’s Taking on Trump and the NRA – Christal Hayes (USA Today, February 17, 2018).
School Shooting Survivor Emma González Speaks Out: "We Don't Want These People in Charge Anymore" – Elaine Aradillas (People, February 19, 2018).
Parkland Survivors Rip Politicians' "Pathetic" Responses – Lindsey Ellefson (CNN, February 20, 2018).
Change Is Coming in the 'BS' National Debate on Gun Violence – Eric Ortiz (Truthdig, February 19, 2018).
Florida School Shooting Survivors on Face the NationCBS News (February 18, 2018).
The Kids Are Going to Save You, America. There's No One Else Left to Do It – Bradley Burston (Haaretz, February 19, 2018).
Florida Shooting Survivors Announce National March Against Gun Violence – Cristiano Lima (Politico, February 18, 2018).
I Lost My Little Brother at Sandy Hook. Here’s What’s Different About the Florida Shooting – Danielle Vabner (The Huffington Post, February 19, 2018).
Gun Reform: Speaking Truth to Bullshit, Practicing Civility, and Effecting Change – Brené Brown (Brené, November 8, 2016).
Trump and Republicans Are Blaming Mental Health for America's Gun Problem After the Florida School Shooting — Here's Why They're Wrong – Michal Kranz and Hilary Brueck (Business Insider, February 15, 2018).
Here Are the Congressional Candidates Who Got the Most NRA Money in the 2016 Campaign, by State – Florida Is No. 3 – John W. Schoen (CNBC, February 15, 2018).
The NRA Invested Millions in These Politicians in 2016 – Heather Timmons (Quartz, February 14, 2018).
This is America: 9 out of 10 Public Schools Now Hold Mass Shooting Drills for Students – Alexia Fernández Campbell (Vox, February 16, 2018).
Are Dead Children the Price of Freedom? – Christian Christensen (Common Dreams, February 17, 2018).
Five Arguments Against Gun Control — and Why They Are All Wrong – Evan Defilippis and Devin Hughes (Los Angeles Times, July 8, 2016).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Social Roots of Yet Another American Tragedy
Something to Think About – December 14, 2012
Quote of the Day – December 15, 2012
“I Pray, I Pray”
Prayer of the Week – June 19, 2016
Quote of the Day – October 2, 2017
Discerning and Embodying Sacred Presence in Times of Violence and Strife
Questioning God's Benevolence in the Face of Tragedy

Image: Associated Press.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Gabriel Fauré's "ChristoPagan" Requiem

Above: The interior of Minneapolis' Orchestra Hall during the intermission
of the January 9 performance of the Minnesota Orchestra.

This time last Friday I was with my good friend Brian at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis. I was Brian's guest for the Minnesota Orchestra's February 9 concert, a definitely highlight of which was the orchestra's performance of Gabriel Fauré's Requiem, Opus 48 (concert version of 1900).

Conducted by Bernard Labadie, the performance featured a four-part mixed chorus (Minnesota Chorale) with soprano and baritone vocal soloists (Helene Guimette and Philippe Sly respectively), plus orchestra comprising two flutes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, harp, organ and strings. Yes, it was quite the performance!

I also realized that as a teenager I had sang the Requiem's Sanctus in a little high school chorale group I was a part of in 1980 or '81. I recognized it immediately when I heard it last Friday night, the first time in over 35 years! Indeed, I'd never totally forgotten it and could still hum a good part of it. What I had forgotten, though, was where it was from and who wrote it. Now I know.

In the concert's excellent program notes, written by Eric Bromberger, it's noted that Faure's Requiem has been called pagan rather than Christian. This gave me a good chuckle, especially given my interest in aspects of the pagan spiritual path. Bromberger contends that those who consider the Requiem to be pagan do so because it doesn't include a description of the horrors of damnation or an admission of humanity's unworthiness. It's a fair enough contention, but in stating it Bromberger appears to make the common mistake of equating "pagan" with "non-believer," seemingly in all things sacred.

To be clear: like people on other spiritual paths, those on the pagan path seek, discern, and respond to the Divine Presence. What is perhaps unique about paganism is that this path recognizes the Divine Presence in all things, though particularly in the natural world – the elements, the cycle of the seasons, and the inherent diversity of life. There is an elemental power and beauty in all of these things, a grounding power and beauty that paradoxically transcends doctrine and dogma. I hear and feel such beauty and gravitas in Faure's Requiem.

Indeed, I actually think Faure's Requiem is a wonderful reflection of the inclusive path known as "ChristoPaganism," a range of spiritualities which, as Lisa Frideborg writes "combines beliefs and practices of Christianity with those of Paganism, or observes them in parallel." (For previous Wild Reed posts that focus on this combination and these parallels, click here, here and here.)

Following, with added images and links, is Eric Bromberger's commentary on Gabriel Fauré's Requiem, Opus 48. Enjoy!

Setting the Requiem Mass for the Dead to music is a challenge which makes certain composers reveal their deepest nature, and when we hear their Requiem settings, we peer deep into their souls. From the self-conscious pageantry of the Berlioz Requiem to the lyric drama of Verdi, from the independence of Brahms (who chose his own texts to make it a distinctly German Requiem) to the anguish of Britten’s War Requiem, a setting of the Requiem text can become a spectacularly different thing in each composer’s hands.

The gentlest of settings

What most distinguishes the Requiem of Gabriel Fauré is its calm, for sure this spare and understated music is the gentlest of all settings. Where Berlioz storms the heavens with a huge orchestra and chorus, Fauré rarely raises his voice above quiet supplication. Verdi employs four brilliant soloists in an almost operatic setting, but Fauré keeps his drama quietly unobtrusive.

While Brahms shouts out the triumph of resurrection over the grave, Fauré calmly fixes his eyes on paradise. Britten is outraged by warfare, but Fauré remains at peace throughout.

Much of the serenity of Fauré’s Requiem results from his alteration of the text, for he omits the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) of the traditional text. Berlioz and Verdi evoke the shrieking horror of damnation, but Fauré ignores it – his vision of death foresees not damnation, but only salvation. While he reinserts a line from the Dies Irae in the Libera me, the effect remains one of quiet confidence in redemption. Fauré underlines this by concluding with an additional section, In Paradisum – that title reminds us of the emphasis of the entire work, and Fauré brings his music to a quiet resolution on the almost inaudible final word “requiem” (rest).

The Requiem’s evolution

The Fauré Requiem has become one of the best-loved of all liturgical works, but it took shape very slowly. The mid-1880s found Fauré [left] struggling as a composer. He had achieved modest early success with a violin sonata and piano quartet, but now, in his 40s, he remained virtually unknown as a composer. For more than 25 years he supported himself by serving as choirmaster and organist at the Madeleine, and it was during these years – particularly following the death of his father in 1885 – that Fauré began to plan his Requiem setting. He was just completing the score when his mother died on January 31, 1887. The first performance took place at the Madeleine two weeks later, on February 16.

But the music performed on that occasion was very different from the version we know today. It was scored for a chamber ensemble and was in only five movements rather than seven. Over the next decade, Fauré returned to the score several times and changed it significantly. The orchestration began to grow, and he added two movements: the Offertorium in 1889 and the Libera me in 1892. The “final” version dates from about 1900.

The music: “from a twilight world”

The Fauré Requiem seems to come from a twilight world. There are no fast movements here (Fauré’s favorite tempo markings, which recur throughout, are Andante moderato and Molto adagio), dynamics are for the most part subdued, and instrumental colors are generally from the darker lower spectrum. Violin sections were added only in the final version, and even here they remain silent in three of the seven movements. In the Introit and Kyrie, the chorus almost whispers its first entrance on the words “Requiem aeternam,” and while the movement soon begins to flow, this prayer for mercy comes to a pianissimo conclusion.

At this point in a Requiem Mass should come the Dies Irae, with its description of the horrors of damnation, the admission of man’s unworthiness, and an abject prayer for mercy. Fauré skips this movement altogether and goes directly to the Offertorium with its baritone solo at “Hostias.” This movement, which Fauré composed and added to the Requiem the year after its original premiere, comes to one of the most beautiful conclusions in all the choral literature as the long final Amen seems to float weightlessly outside time and space. Fauré does finally deploy his brass instruments in the Sanctus, but even this movement comes to a shimmering, near-silent close.

The Pie Jesu brings a complete change. In his German Requiem, Brahms used a soprano soloist in only one of the seven movements, and Fauré does the same thing here. The effect – almost magical – is the same in both works: Above the dark sound of those two settings, the soprano’s voice sounds silvery and pure as she sings a message of consolation.

At the start of the Agnus Dei the violas play one of the most graceful melodies ever written for that instrument, a long, flowing strand of song that threads its way through much of the movement. Tenors introduce the text of this movement, which rises to a sonorous climax, and at the point Fauré brings back the Requiem aeternam from the very beginning; the violas return to draw the movement to its close.

The final two movements set texts from the Burial Service rather than from the Mass for the Dead. The Libera me was composed in its earliest form in 1877, and Fauré adapted it for the Requiem in 1892. Over pulsing, insistent pizzicatos, the baritone soloist sings an urgent prayer for deliverance. The choir responds in fear, and the music rises to its most dramatic moment on horn calls and the sole appearance in the entire work of a line from the Dies Irae. But the specter of damnation passes quickly, and the movement concludes with one last plea for salvation.

That comes in the final movement. Concluding with In Paradisum points at the special character of the Fauré Requiem: It assumes salvation, and if Fauré believed that death was “a happiness beyond the grave,” he shows us that in his concluding movement. There is a surprising parallel between the conclusions of the Fauré Requiem and the Mahler Fourth Symphony, composed in 1900: Both finales feel consciously light after what has gone before, both offer a vision of paradise, and in both cases it is the sound of the soprano voice that leads us into that world of innocence and peace. Mahler’s soprano soloist presents a child’s unaffected vision of heaven, while Fauré has the soprano section take the part of the angels who draw us into paradise. Fauré “wanted to do something different” with his Requiem, and he achieves that in a finale that quietly arrives at “eternal happiness.”

Fauré’s Requiem has been called pagan rather than Christian, no doubt by those who miss the imminence of judgment. But it is hard to see this gentle invocation of Christ and the mercy of God – and confidence in paradise – as pagan. Rather, it remains a quiet statement of faith in ultimate redemption and rest, one so disarmingly beautiful as to appeal to believer and non-believer alike.

– Eric Bromberger
(from Minnesota Orchestra – February 2018 / Showcase)

To listen to Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem as performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (Robert Shaw, Conductor), Judith Blegen (Soprano), and James Morris (Baritone), click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Advent: A "ChristoPagan" Perspective
Celebrating the Coming of the Sun and the Son
Pope Francis' Understanding of Catholicism: An Orchestra in Which All Can Play!
A Musical Weekend
Fusion, Fluidity and Grace: The Music of Claude Chalhoub
The Most Sacred and Simple Mystery of All