“light my fire, blow my flame” 😉
A few days ago, actress Gabourey Sidibe released her short film “The Tale of Four.” The film is part of Refinery29’s Shatterbox Anthology film.
The purpose of this series is to highlight films by women directors. This is Sidibe’s directorial debut.
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much from the film. “The Tale of Four” is a take on Nina Simone’s “Four Women.” Now, folks who know this song, know this is one of Simone’s most iconic gems. The song stays on rotation in Black women’s playlist for revolution. Folks still get chills from Kelly Price, Marsha Ambrosius, Jill Scott, Ledisi rendition of this song at 2010 Black Girls Rock. Ledisi appears as “Aunt Sarah” in the film.
Well, the joke was on me. By the end of the 20-minute short, I was near tears. Sidibe managed to bring a contemporary spin on the characters of Simone’s song. She portrayed the women as complex people. No one is all good or bad.
Aunt Sarah-is taking care of her sister’s children after her sister goes to prison for shooting Sarah’s abusive partner. Despite this sacrifice, Aunt Sarah struggles with keeping the children or placing them in foster care. She feels obligated, but overwhelmed. She loves them, but wants her life back.
Safronia-is a light-skinned biracial woman. She’s harassed by Black peers for her skin color, but she gives as good as she gets. She refers to one of her tormentors as a “burnt bitch.” Safronia demands her dark-skinned mother tell her who her father is. The mother breaks down and tells her daughter how she was conceived. She was raped by a white man. Safronia goes to her mother and hugs her. It was a powerful moment. Black women sexual assault survivors rarely get unspoken love/support. Also, it wasn’t the cliché story of the “confused” biracial, rather acknowledging the pain of the mother.
Sweet Thing– is a sex worker. She’s not ashamed of what she does. She enjoys it, but would like respect from her client. She’s a talented woman. She sings with a husky voice, plays the piano. When she picks up the phone and apologizes for an argument. Of course, it’s the client. The man she really wants to be with. Or so you think.. When she opens the door to a Black woman holding flowers, and they bashfully hold hands. You realize Sweet Thing wants a different kind of love to fill her heart.
Peaches-is the Black mother grieving her child killed by police. She represents Black Lives Matter, the protest of the flag/anthem, the resistance of white supremacy. Peaches is Lesley McSpadden, Sybrina Fulton, Samaria Rice, Geneva Reed-Veal, and more (sadly). More importantly, Peaches is the symbolic revenge of Black mothers. I recently read an article how the narrative of Black people abused by the police/white oppression is that of forgiveness. We are expected to forgive the transgressions against us. Peaches rejects that notion. She knows she will suffer when takes her revenge, but it helps her heal.
“The Tale of Four” was wonderful. It makes the Nina Simone film with Zoe Saldana in blackface, even more insulting. This brilliant songstress deserves more than that. Sidibe redeems Simone’s honor with her film.
I’m a big fan of 90’s r&b. It was a such great time for Black music. There was a diversity of looks/talent, particularly with Black female singers. Once r&b merged with hip hop, it opened the door for young Black women’s swag. Mary J Blige, Faith Evans, Aaliyah, En Vogue, Zhane, SWV, etc. ruled the charts. Black women singers from the 80’s (Angela Winbush, Miki Howard, Stephanie Mills, etc.) were able to hold on and crossover into the new beats driven sound, up into the mid-90’s.
Eventually, these old school Black female singers, would be pushed out. It was due to record companies recognizing the power of r&b/hip-hop. They hooked their claws into the music, and repackaged it with more palatable images for mainstream America (white folks).
By the late 90’s-2000s white female singers Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus etc. were promoted as the latest flavor of r&b, which by now had been watered down to “r&b lite.”
Since the mid-2000s, Black female singers have struggled. For over a decade, there’s only been two spaces given to Black women. Largely occupied by Beyoncé and Rihanna. It’s been hard for other Black female singers to break into the box. There’s been upcoming Black female singers who have generated buzz here and there (Janelle Monae, FKA Twigs), but most Black female singers continue to be marginalized.
Recently, I went on a music site to check out the latest tunes. I try to stay hip to what the kids are listening to. It was amusing to scroll through the r&b section and see a sea of white faces. The music industry has successfully been able to hijack Black music to showcase white singers (Sam Smith, Adele, Ellie Goulding, Ed Sheeran etc.)
This has contributed to the stagnation of Black female talent. There hasn’t been a buzz on a Black female singer for a minute…until now. A couple of months ago, Kelela’s page popped up on my timeline. I decided to check her out. I was pleasantly surprised. She’s an interesting/innovative musician. I also find Kelela’s honesty about being a Black woman in today’s music scene, refreshing. She’s not running from the topic. She understands how the intersections of race/gender impact her career.
I was excited when I learned she was coming to my city. Sadly, something came up and I had to cancel. I was bummed as hell. But I was happy I was able to support by buying a ticket. It’s time for the Black female singer to make a comeback (especially Brown/Dark skinned ones, but that’s another post 😉
Kelela’s debut album “Take Me Apart” is good. It’s experimental/Afrofuturistic r&b. She just released a new video for the song “Blue Light.”
As she said on her page, she’s having sex with her hair. Well, okay, go girl.