Episode 14 The Culture Show

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This programme contains some strong language. Hello and welcome to The


Culture Show from Mac Birmingham! Tonight we've got the female future


of rap - the maverick male artist who's making critical waves - and


the must-see movie that's setting the festival circuit on fire Coming


up: The art of Rashid Johnson. The rap of Angel Haze. The movie you


need to be name-checking - Beasts of the Southern Wild. And what's a


Blackta? First - it's swept up prizes at Cannes and Sundance, and


now Beasts of the Southern Wild is being tipped for an Oscar too. Not


bad for a movie made by a first time director with a miniature


budget and an untrained, unknown cast. Mark Kermode took the film


producer Mark Boothe to see it. day the storm is going to blow. The


waters will rise up so high, there ain't going to be no bathtub, just


a whole bunch of water. Beasts of the Southern Wild blends fantasy


and realism to create a powerful metaphor for a post-Katrina South.


The reserves are tested by a near biblical storm. Still searching for


the mother who swam away long ago, she must face her father's failing


health to survive the natural disaster that has engulfed her home.


While at the 56th BFI London Film Festival, the director told us


about working with the child star. It is about what it is like to go


through these catastrophes, but go through it at the age of six where


it is not a political issue, it is not an environmental issue, it is


an emotional issue where you see your home disappear, where you see


your parent disappear. How it feels to go through that and how you


conquer that with a spirit. So just having someone that young, there is


a purity to the way that a six- year-old thinks and the way that


they act. It is about, it is purely about love and emotion. She had


that. I'm your daddy. Argh! Who the man? I'm the man! Mark Boothe works


with emerging artists concerned with the moving image. In 2004, he


co-produced Bullet Boy which netted the lead actor an independent film


award for most promising newcomer. I was interested to find out what


he thought of Beasts of the Southern Wild. This is a film that


has wowed audiences. Does it deserve the praise? I think it does.


When you understand how this film was made, through an amazing


process and journey of working in the heart of the community,


crafting an amazing story. It's a Festival film and deserves the


praise. But also I think in a wider sense of film-making, certainly new


talent. There is an argument for saying it is partly authored by the


cast. In the case of the father, he was not an actor, he was cast from


the local bakery. He has said himself, "I lived through Katrina


and that is what I bring to the screen." It is his story. Yes. I


think that that really interesting convergence of storytelling along


with a more dramatic approach. You tap into something very different.


The fact that they took six months and went through five, something


like 4,000 kids to find the lead character, it is amazing. The idea


that that search took place in the community itself. As you say, to


find Dwight Henry, that idea about someone of the community being able


to tell a story, that relates directly to their own experience.


In a way, adding another layer of authenticity that we rarely get to


see. The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just


right. I think that blend of the post-Katrina aftermath and what


goes with any devastation - floods, tsunamis, it is all there. We have


seen first-hand what happens when a community that is so displaced from


modernity are equally affected by the forces of nature. And the


problems created by our own abuse I see everything that made me.


Flying around in invisible pieces. I see I'm a little piece of a big,


big universe. You have a movie that comes out that is totally left-


field and compounds everything. It provides not only a fresh benchmark,


but also inspiration to many other film-makers who don't want to


follow the traditional commercial Hollywood path. Thank you very much.


Cheers. Beasts of the Southern Wild is


released on the 19th of October. Now the rap of Angel Haze has been


setting the web ablaze - but she says she wants to be a rock star,


not a rap star, on the grounds that the former have more fun. Whichever


she ends up becoming, she's destined to be huge. Miranda Sawyer


went to meet her: Angel Haze can do nasty, romantic and she can do


philosophical. With her rapid-fire lyrics, she already owns New York,


now she has come over here to stake her claim on the UK. Welcome to The


Culture Show. Hip-hop is a confident environment. Do you feel


like you are the best? Yeah. Totally. I'm going to keep being


the best until someone decides they want to be better than me. It is


not going to happen any time soon. Hip-hop can suffer from really


strong stereotypes, particularly with women. Yeah. Do you try and


break out of that? Do you play with those games? No. For me, it is just


a matter of being myself. Some people can refuse to play the game


and change it by doing so. With me, it is always like just be you.


do you find being compared with people like Nicki Minaj? I think


that's hip-hop culture for you. Everybody gets compared to someone.


When Nicki Minaj came out, she was compared to Foxy Brown. It is a


rite of passage. # I don't need no friends... #


Explain about your background. grew up in Michigan. I was in a


cult. It is so weird to say "cult" because every time I say it I get


this look. I couldn't do the simplest things ever. Everything I


did had to revolve around church and God and hell... What was it


called? Love, Peace and The Holy Ghost. Where was your dad? He died


before I was born. That is a tough mixed-up childhood? Yeah. Was there


any music you heard within that cult? Was it just hymns? Yeah.


LAUGHTER You can sing one if you want! I hate them. No contemporary


music? No. It was considered secular. If you listened to it, you


were going to hell. Did I grew up in a house I couldn't even pick up


a play-phone, they would say it was the devil talking to you. You were


cursed. You couldn't do a lot of stuff. What was it like when you


first heard music? What was the first track you heard? The first


hip-hop song was Meet Me In The Trap. I started listening to Eminem.


Like, I like to think that I shaped myself after those type of artists


where you go through something with them on song and it means something.


How old were you when you discovered these artists? 16. Four


years ago! When did you start rapping? A year after that, 17.


That was a quick learning curve? Yes. That was one year? I'm a type


of person, when I see something, I have to learn about it. I was


learning what word play was and learning what all of it meant. And


delving into the root of all of it. In America, there's like a whole


entire cycle to, like, colour, race, gender, all that stuff. If you


understand the laws of it all, you understand how it works, you


understand how to bypass it. But in America, it is so difficult to be


black. # I'm running through the jungle...


Can I ask you a question? After being through the experience you


have been with your mum, do you believe in God now? Sometimes.


Sometimes. I think it is objective with me. Like, without a belief in


God, I don't think I would be here this far. So sometimes I do and


sometimes I'm like, yeah, no, it is too much, it is too time-consuming


for me. I could be living and stuff. That's good. Sometimes I do,


sometimes I don't. # You can hit it till your nose


Angel Haze's debut LP Reservation is available now. Next tonight,


Rashid Johnson is one of the most talked-about young artists on the


New York scene. A nominee for this year's Hugo Boss Prize, if he wins


he'll get a serious trophy in the form of a solo show at the city's


Guggenheim Museum. But you can see his work here in the UK right now,


at the South London Gallery - where It's probably fair to say that not


many people in this country are familiar with the name Rashid


Johnson. At least, not yet. But back in America he's been making


waves for a while now. He's only in his mid-30s but earlier this year


he had a mid-career retrospective in his home town of Chicago. His


work is often seen through the prism of race because it alludes to


African traditions and important black cultural figures, and he uses


all sorts of strange materials like black soap and shea butter. And


I've heard that he's putting the finishing touches to his new show


here at the South London Gallery using an old broom handle, and a


bucket of molten black wax. Johnson began his career as a


photographer, with a series of portraits of homeless black men.


And his work is bathed in the colour black: from scorched wood to


the black wax and soap glooped over his wall pieces.


His work has been described as "post black" - redefining what it


means to be black in a country that has been through the civil rights


movement and now has an established black middle class, and even a


black president. I wonder what Maybe you could explain a little


bit about where we are - what is this space that you've created? Why


are there these couches with zebra- striped patterns? It's interesting.


When I first started thinking about making this show, I had the


opportunity to visit the Freud Museum. In North London? Yeah. And


when I was there, I was looking at these daybeds. And I started


thinking about, like a group therapy scenario. Something that's


kind of followed my work a few times. This idea of healing. I


started thinking about if there was a potential disaster, there's a


shelter - people are often brought into, like a gymnasium, and there


are cots lined up. And those cots are a place for them to rest while


they deal with the destruction that's happened around them. So for


this show I was kind of thinking about entering that concept, but


instead of there being cots in a row you would have these daybeds in


a row, so the space could simultaneously be a place for


treatment, and healing. OK. Like psychoanalytic treatment. Something


else that's very noticeable immediately when you come in, is


that there are lots and lots of motifs that are extremely


individual - things that you've used before in your work. I mean,


that shelving-stack-cum-painting is quite familiar from some of your


earlier work. And over there we've got this, what do you call them?


Rifle sights? Gun sights? That you've used before. Yeah, or


crosshairs. Are you trying to build up your own - mythology is not


quite the right word, but your own set of visual codes? Well, I think


there's a vocabulary, and it's one that I've become comfortable with


and I understand. So when I think about this gun sight, whether it's


being pointed at you, or you are the person pointing it. And so


maybe that description of violence, or scarring. The shea butter which


is very much a healing material. The black soap which is very much a


cleansing material, as well as a healing material. Why have you used


soap and not paint? Well, I always wanted to make an object that you


could potentially clean your body with. At the end of the day, you


could pull down the Rashid Johnson painting off the wall, and actually


clean yourself. Even without such high-falutin' conceptual stuff, I


find the work itself really appealing in purely formal terms of


"a thing that looks nice". These great gobbets of wax and soap form


a dense surface reminiscent of abstract expressionism, and in the


gestures and the pouring again there are references to mid-20th


century American painters like Frank Stella and Jackson Pollock.


In a work like this, this is actually flooring. Oh yeah! Parquet


flooring, you can see there. Right, so it's wood flooring. And then


it's burned with a torch to almost make it into my own charcoal. And


then the drawing is made on that built charcoal. But it's really the


elevation of the floor to the wall, right? Like, any inanimate object


would ideally want to be an artwork. You know? That would be - that's


the most magical position to occupy. Johnson grew up in a middle-class


black family who enthusiastically embraced the Afrocentrism movement


of the 1970s. His work is peppered with personal references: books


from his mother's shelves, significant albums, and exotic


touches like the zebra skins. So a lot of these things, when


people come to your work, what they need to understand is that lots of


these have personal, autobiographical meaning for you.


They do but they're also employable. I mean a work like this, you could


listen to the Blakey album while you're putting on shea butter and


reading the Ellis Cose book. Maybe you would understand how I came to


make it, because that's how I came to make it, was by listening to the


album, reading the book and putting on shea butter which I consistently


do throughout the day, which is why my skin is so soft. LAUGHTER


Rashid Johnson: Shelter is at the South London Gallery until 25th


November. Now back to that question - what's a Blackta? It's a black


actor and the name of Nathan Martello-White's new satire on the


highs and lows of trying to get your name up in lights - or a job,


at least. Lindsay Johns has been to the Young Vic Theatre to look in on


rehearsals. We all know it's tough making it as


an actor in any country, wherever you're from. But in Britain today,


is it even tougher as a young, black actor? It's this question,


and many others, that one actor- turned-playwright raises in his


debut play, Blackta. The play's about the frustrations


and obstacles faced by a group of jobbing actors, and it's set in a


never-ending audition room, where the characters are competing with


each other for a way out and their big break. It's a world where


fulfilling black stereotypes seems to be more important than any


measure of talent. Could you lean off, or lean yourself on bigger


things? But you're naturally big. What's that supposed to mean?


you know, your face is just naturally wide. And your stature,


bulky. Nah, bro. You're the buck! Got them slave genes, bruv. Them


"come build be a pyramid" genes! You're a joker. With fewer decent


parts for black actors, competition is fierce, but even among fellow


cast members? Now guys, be honest, we all know it's a such a small


world in the black British actor pool; you all know each other,


you're all going, often, for the same parts. Is there a genuine


sense of camaraderie, or is it fake? You bump into the same faces,


and at first it might be sort of like competition, but you kinda


help each other out, or if you don't go up for something or you


haven't get something. But on the other hand, I think that sometimes


the claustrophobia of it. Yeah. kind of, you know, it can create


tension. You want your friends to succeed, but you also want to


succeed, and it's hard sometimes watching people you've trained with.


Exactly. People you've worked with doing really well, and you're not


doing as well. You kind of understand that we're not in


control of who gets it, so let's be cool with each other. Are there


times when you walk into that audition room, or the casting room,


and you read the character and you're up for another, yet another,


drug dealer or "you get me blud?" thug, and your heart just sinks and


you go "No, can't do this again"? Sometimes you get a bit frustrated


because if it's a A black agent or black lawyer or something like that,


there's always this breakdown that he's kinda made it out of this


world of destitution. Yeah, yeah. And chaos. And his dad was on


crack! Blah, blah, blah, and it's just sort of like, why can't he


just be a guy who went to a good school. Middle class, university.


And he became an agent, like a black James Bond? Brown, would you


like to come through? Oh, but, Black's in at 10. They'd like to


see you first. In Blackta, the characters don't have names -


they're just skin tones. Provocative? Or is there a point to


prove? For me it's quite derogatory to define people by colour. You


know, I think you define people by their individuality, and the merit


on who they are as people. There are, kind of, issues with how fair


you are and how dark you are in relation to how attractive you are.


And also the guys that I was hanging out with, who I loosely


based the play off, erm, were all different spectrums of that - there


was a mixed-race guy, there was a brown-skinned guy, and they all had


their own takes on why, or why not, they were getting roles or not


getting roles. So, I wanted to explore that, yeah. It's different


for you anyway. How? You're yellow. What the fuck's that got to do with


it? They looks at you differently. Not even in a better way,


necessarily, but word on the grape is being yellow's an advantage -


within reason. That's actually bullshit. And what about the


experiences of the actors in the real world? The guys that tend to


get the villainous roles, or whatever, are darker skinned. When


I went to drama school, I played a lot of villains - which I loved, it


was great, because they've got so much depth to them, but when I came


out - nah. One crazy one - it was one of my first auditions, erm, and


it was in a hotel, I was at the bottom of the stairs - I got there,


I thought my time was 12 o'clock - I got there and there's just all


these black actors, just in a line. And every actor was just coming


past me on the way out saying "Don't go in there, man, it's


degrading, don't go in there". And I was like, "You know what? I need


this job!" So, I get to the top, I get into the room, the guy is there


and he's like "Hi! How are you doing? Nice - have you read the


signs?". I said "Yeah, I read the signs", and he's like, "OK, can you


rap?". So I was like, "It's nothing to do with the piece, but you want


me to rap? No!" You are a prime black buck. You epitomise black in


essence. We looked at all the African American stars that we


aspired to be like, or we admire, or are doing really well. They all


kind of are big... They are ripped. They look good. And I'm looking at


me and I'm, like, boy, you have some work to do! You have a bit of


the pigeon-chest? Let's do some push-ups right now! In 2002, an


unknown British actor from East London, frustrated with


opportunities at home, moved to America. Idris Elba, burst onto the


scene playing the brooding Baltimore gangster, Stringer Bell


in the award-winning TV series, The Wire. I think we can work this out.


They said that? It is the perfect time for them, man. Your name is


ringing out. Why not quit while we are ahead? And only last year, the


Birmingham-born actor, David Harewood, became a household name


playing the uncompromising CIA boss in hit-drama, Homeland. We are


about projecting military power now. His success as a pivotal character


in Homeland prompted him to say that all black British actors had


to go to America if they were serious about making it big.


this show, in Blackta, two or three of the actors are thinking about


going over. I have been ten years into this acting. I'm considering


going to America. What do you do, all this black British talent, just


decamping across the pond? You do your thing. I'm writing material


now. I'm trying to create my own thing. I want the good actors


around. There is a wealth of talent. I want to use it. I want to create


material that they can express themselves in fully. Do you reckon


in this country right now, we are ready for young black British


talent to be black and British and not American? We are ready!


LAUGHTER I have been ready, like. Blackta is at the Young Vic from


26th October until 17th November. Next week on The Culture Show, Mark


Kermode presents a special programme on the director Sam


Mendes, who's just made Skyfall - the upcoming Bond film. We'll leave


you tonight though, with a look at Mac Birmingham's current show - the


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