Report of our EXpedition

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Princess and the Frog is something to dream about

With all of the negative and stereotypical entertainment available today, it's so refreshing to see something positive and uplifting on the screen. The Princess and the Frog may well be one of the best Disney films, in my opinion in many years. This film presents a lush landscape of colors and culture that draws in the audience into what I feel is a masterpiece of animation.

I'm glad that Disney has come back to its senses, and reopened its traditional (2D) animation division. As an animator, I feel that all forms of animation(traditional, 3D, stop motion, and others) need to be available as viable means of creativity for all artists and filmmakers. What this film does, is return to the grand themes and enchanting stories, which Disney has been historically known for.

The story begins in the childhood of Tiana, who with her best friend Charlotte, listen intently to the story of the Frog Prince, told by Tiana's mother Eudora. The story continues from there, as we see the happy family of Tiana, Eudora, and Tiana's hard working father James, share a meal with their entire community.

The story moves forward to Tiana's adulthood, where she is a hard working woman, striving to fulfill, her father's and her own dream of starting a restaurant. Without going too far into the plot, the film continues with the trials and tribulations of Tiana, a wayward prince, and a bevy of intriguing animals.

What makes me so happy about this film, is how loving, hardworking, diligent, and intelligent African Americans are portrayed in this film. Such examples as showing an African American man in James, who works two jobs, loves his African American wife, loves his daughter, and loves community. Another example is the adult Tiana, who like her father, works two jobs, saves her money, and has respect for herself. Now these examples may not mean a lot to some people, but compared to the thug/gangstas and low class hoochies that seem to be everywhere in mainstream music videos and films, these examples are milestones.

One final example that I find just as important, is the respect and attention to detail, of the African American culture that is presented in the film. From the roots of jazz, the exposition of voodou, to even showing bottles hanging from a tree. The film introduces a small bit of the richness that is African American culture.

For those who wish to avoid or boycott this film because of discrimination or racial slight, I saw very little to complain about. Some people reference that the Prince(Naveen) is not African American as an example. Naveen is portrayed as a person of color, with a Spanish accent and curly hair. There is no reference to his ethnic origin, and from my perspective, becomes a non-issue when weighed against the film as a whole. Another touchy subject has been about the use of voodou in this film. Voodou is a practice which originated from west and central Africa, which was brought to America, the Caribbean, and South America by the slave trade. Voodou is as much a part of the fabric and history of Louisiana as jazz, gumbo, and the bayou.

This film needs to be seen by all African American Kids, as well as all African American adults. Not just because Disney has finally created an African American princess, but because this film uplifts and becomes a role model for African Americans, that most mainstream entertainment should not and can't be. Along with African Americans, this film can be a great inspiration for all people to see.

Friday, November 20, 2009

"Precious" doesn't make me feel too Precious

First off, for those who haven't seen or plan on seeing the film, Precious, this post may be a spoiler for you. With that said, if you want to see a film about a morbidly obese 16 year old black girl, who is already a mother of a down syndrome child, with another on the way, with both fathered by her own father, and is beaten and verbally abused by her welfare cheating mother, and ultimately finds out that she and her newborn child have AIDS, please go see Precious.

I stated this to frame the disgust and anger that I felt after I viewed this film. I did not come out of the movie theater feeling "Hopeful" as many critics have written in their reviews. I saw this film, not as a film critic, but as a person of African decent who is tired of seeing Black people as a segment of society to be pitied and perpetually looked down upon. Don't get me wrong, the acting was tremendous by the primary and supporting cast, and the story was well put together. But for me, I see this film as a reiteration of the vile images that have been glorified within our mainstream music, television, and films that continue to degrade American society.

The triumph of this film comes when the lead character, Precious fights back against her abusive mother and pushes to gain control over her life and her children. Sadly to say, that is the highest the film goes in terms of a positive outlook on the life of Precious. She still remains a morbidly obese 16 year old black girl, who still must attain her GED, while taking care of a child with down syndrome and one with AIDS, along with having AIDS herself. Where is the bright spot in this equation? What does this girl have to look forward to in her life? And how is she going to make it?

I know that some people reading this may be angry at my pessimistic view. But since I have lived and worked in and around New York City for over 9 years, I've seen far too many Precious Jones. I've seen the morbidly obese teenagers walking around with strollers without the ability to speak with good diction. I know that in New York City, you are lucky to have 50% of the African Americans and Latinos graduate high school within 4 years. These numbers aren't much better in other cities and metropolitan areas around the US either.

African Americans are considered the poorest people in the richest nation of the world. African Americans are considered the most illiterate in the wealthiest country of the world. African Americans are the most unemployed in the United States. And there are more African Americans in prison, than any other race or ethnicity in this country. African Americans are viewed, stereotypically as being on welfare, lazy, and criminal. Images of African Americans as drug dealers, gang bangers, and having a multitude of children with different parents out of wedlock, are the normal representation within mainstream media.

Why aren't the majority of the images portrayed of Whites or Asians, of the most violent and derelict of them? Why are Whites automatically viewed as the leaders or heroes? Why are Asians automatically viewed as the most intelligent or hard working? Such stereotypes make it easier for Whites or Asians to navigate within society, whether it be through the job market, education, or simply walking down the street. When most media perceptions of a people are positive, many individuals have a positive perception that particular group of people. This can also be said for the self-perceptions of that ethnic or racial group. Seeing positive images of your own people allow you to to also feel good about yourself.

In the late 1980's and early 90's, the Cosby Show, and the spin off, A different World were a part of a pervasive and influential part of mainstream media that promoted African American life in a positive direction. Having been a teenager during this time period, I can say from experience that these images had a progressively positive effect on my personal outlook on life. To see Black man as a doctor and Black woman as a lawyer, together as husband and wife on television, changed perceptions of what Black people were supposed to be. And to have a show showing Black people successfully matriculating through college was another milestone for advancement. These, along with the hip hop of the time promoting education, self reliance, and pride in being of African decent pushed the expectation of being great.

I want to see optimism and true hope represented again within mainstream entertainment. I don't want to see the glorification of poverty, obesity, violence, and lack of responsibility. I want to see the successes emulated on TV and in the films that have surrounded me throughout my adulthood. I want to see the stories of my African American high school friends, who have become doctors and lawyers. The stories of my African American college friends who are business owners, executives, professors, architects, doctors, artists and so much more. To know African Americans who have come out of poverty, defied racism, and succeeded without becoming today's stereotypes. These are the stories of HOPE that need to be seen and felt! We all must take the responsibility to demand and create works that uplift and progress the existence of a people that have been portrayed at the bottom for far too long! We cannot bear anymore stories about Precious. Our society cannot survive anymore degradation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Life's Journey nominated for a Kids First! Best Award!

My film, Life's Journey has been nominated for a Kids First! Best Award! in the category, Independent Short, Ages 12-18, in the Kids First Film Festival. .

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why New York has had a hold on me

I can't help but love the sound, the food, the lights, the people, the music, the art, the films, and the entire existence of this city. I have become addicted to this city, and as in most addictions, they must be ended. For me, New York City became my awakening of self, and the awakening of what exists in life. This place molded my raw mid-western abilities into an ever sharpened tool to be used anywhere I see fit. This city allowed me to let go of my inhibitions and express what I had been to afraid to unleash.

But this city also becomes a curse, that without effort, no one can overcome. If one allows this city to use you, you can become a balled up wad of trash, swept up and shipped off to a landfill. Or you could become trapped in an ever continuing cycle of struggle and success, which could have one not realizing that years and decades have gone by.

I have experienced the joys and struggles of being a dreamer, trapped in the NYC maze in which others have been in control of whether I am able to travel through to the end. I have experienced the high of having my first animated film seen in Times Square and in Harlem. I have had the great fortune to meet great people within entertainment, politics, and the creative circles. But within such success, I have until now, remained the cliche of a starving artist, always looking for that big break.

This cycle has continued for me for seven years, since graduating with my MFA Degree. Having to work in bookstores and hoping for adjunct teaching positions. All just to get by until my big break would come. What broke this cycle, was to think outside and away from the glamour of New York. To know that this city has harnessed what I need to succeed anywhere I please. And in a surprised moment, my chance, my break came more than a thousand miles away.

I am now an full animation professor at a school in Arizona. I will be able to teach and create, with the freedom that I had dreamed of. I will be able to concentrate on my field, instead of how am I going to pay the bills. I can relax and have time to myself, instead of always being on the run looking for the next opportunity. The kicker was to kick my addiction to New York City. The city where I still love the sound, the food, the lights, the people, the music, the art, the films, and its entire existence.

Maybe I haven't kicked that addiction yet, New York is still in my blood.

James N Bowman

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

When are we going to be strong enough to say NO!!!

With so much positive energy flowing throughout the USA presently, why do WE as Blacks and Latinos still choose, willingly to degrade ourselves. I make this statement in referece to the film, Next Day Air. Now, before I continue, I must state that I have not, and probably will not see this film. With that said, the plot of this film deals with a lazy, weed smoking delivery man who works with a partner who likes to steal from the packages they are supposed to deliver. The lazy/pot smoking lead character delivers a large box of drugs, mistakenly to two lazy hustlers who are near eviction from their apartment. The plot thickens when the man, whom the drugs were supposed to be delivered to, angrily looks for the missing drugs all while dealing with his loudmouth, scantily dressed girlfriend.

Now I know I've said a lot to fill and confuse your mind, but keep one thing in mind. All of the pathetic characters in this film are of African Decent. The reason why I ask "When are we going to be strong enough to say NO", is because we do not have to shuck and jive and shoot people anymore to work in film. I may be naive in my thinking, but aren't there enough people of African Decent whom have the skills, money, and resources to create and distrbute pieces that reflect a broad spectrum of ideas. Why should the likes of Donald Faison of Scrubs fame, acclaimed Actor/Rapper Mos Def, Mike Epps, Wood Harris, Darius McCrary, and the legendary Debbie Allen even go near such a project? Are roles that diffrucult to come by for Blacks and Latinos? Or do we even care about the images that we portray about ourselves?

The answers are Yes and No respectively. Hollywood only seems willing to open its multitude of doors for for rolls that glorify, violence, ignorance, stupidity, and laziness within the African Diaspora. Yes there are films that portray these attributes to Whites and other races, but Hollywood allows for a diverse balance of both intellectualism and foolishness within the many films that feature White actors and subject matter. To the second question that I posed, I will quote something my father always told me. We are too willing to sell-out cheap. Blacks and Latinos just see an opportunity to work and make a living without looking at the overall consequenses of accepting certain degrading rolls.

This is a dilema which gave Halle Berry an oscar while leaving Angela Bassett out of work. I am referring to the lead role in the film Monsters Ball, which Halle Berry won the best actress academy award. Angela Bassett was up to portray the lead, but declined because she thought the part was degrading. I have known friends who have been put in similar situations, in various parts of the entertainment field, and have chosen to remain on the outside in order not to degrade themselves or other people of African Decent. I know the pain that they feel, to be so close at success, but unable to sell themselves out to allow success to happen.

My question remains, When are we going to be strong enough to say NO?

Monday, February 23, 2009

A new hope for filmmakers of African-Decent?

I'm not sure if anyone has noticed, but there is a void where there should be a plethora of opportunities for African American filmmakers. Just as you may be reading this, you're thinking, "what about Spike Lee, John Singleton, Antoine Fuqua, or Tyler Perry?". Well
there are a large number of others, including animators and screenwriters as well, whom have not been able to walk into the doors of the major ane even minor studios to find work.

Lets start with Spike Lee. Lee is the founder and owner of 40Acres and a Mule Filmworks. This production company has been Lee's calling sign since the mid 1980s. But that's just it, 40 Acres is just a production company. A production company is an entity where a film is simply created. And the creation of any film is no small feat. You must come up with a story, create ideas for characters and the look of the film, write a script and draw a storyboard, find funding, build or find a location, hire a crew, create your shots, and finally edit with sound and hopefully the production is finished.

After the film is finished, you then must find a way distribute or show your film. This is where studios like 20th Century Fox, Disney, and the like have a distinct advantage. Major and even some minor studios not only produce their films, but they also have a distribution network or company which gets their films into the theaters and on the DVD store shelves. This demographic now has a new player, and that is the Tyler Perry Studios. Along with TPS, Tyler Perry is creating an offshoot called 34th Street Films, which is is to cater to the creation and acquisition of films by other filmmakers of African Decent. This studio, billed by the New York Daily News as "the nation's only African-American-owned film studio" (, is responsible for both production and distribution of film and television programming.

I put a question mark at the end of my title because I do wonder if this will be an advent of new opportunities for African American filmmakers. I as an animator have had a hard time meandering through this industry, trying to find success. The same could be said for my partner with Exodus Publishing as well as many other talented and educated African American filmmakers, whom I have met over the past several years. You toil to create a film, traverse the film festival circuit, and finally wait in hopes that some entity will deliver you into a prosperous career.

Hollywood is very formulaic and segmented in terms of who gets an opportunity. Certain formulas that have been lucrative in years past are recycled over and over again, keeping out the creativity of new ideas and new people. Also while handing out opportunities to friends, family, classmates, and those whom they can relate to. I'm not asking for a segregated or divided entertainment industry, but if Tyler Perry Studios is the ONLY African American owned film studio, what does that really say about Hollywood. What does that say about success for African American Filmmakers and Animators like myself.

Everyone deserves a voice or an outlet for creativity. African American people are much more than gangstas and cross-dressing big Mammas on the silver screen. There are so many dynamic stories within drama, science fiction, horror, action, and thriller that need to be told. And told in a professional and quality way that major studios have been able to do for nearly a century. Tyler Perry should not be the only act in town. It is my hope and dream that multiple doors will open, not just for African American filmmakers, but for filmmakers of all ethnicities throughout this great country.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nation of Cowards or Nation of Heroes

I have to agree with Attorney General Eric Holder. In a recent statement from the Attorney General( , he states that America is a nation of cowards in regards to the race issue. It's sad that on the same day, a political cartoon featured in the New York Post reiterated the idea of America still not being able to come to grips with race (view the cartoon at the Huffington Post, ). The cartoon shows two police officers, one pointing a smoking gun toward a a dead chimpanzee, who is riddled with bullet holes, while the other police officer stands with a caption over him stating "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill".

As a Black man, I often live in a world of either anger or self-doubt. The anger comes from the thought of being treated as less than worthy because of the ignorance of racism. While the self-doubt comes from a fear of being unqualified or just not good enough. What we see within the media either compounds or conflicts with the experiences of our realities. Being Black, you're always on guard, hoping not to be harassed by police or treated as if you are an outcast. While I cannot speak for Whites, I do not believe that they walk around with that same apprehension.

After having struggled, and continue to struggle to break into the animation industry, I have lived with the confounded dichotomy of anger and self-doubt which questions my abilities, talent, and education. Ever since graduating from the School of Visual Arts, It has been an uphill battle to get work as an animator, while at the same time receiving praise for what I can do. I have not been alone in this kind of story. I have heard from colleagues and former classmates whom are of African decent who have told similar tales. So maybe it's not paranoia, but barrier of discomfort and fear that has kept us out.

It may have been much easier for this nation to elect a Black President than for a company to hire a Black animator, engineer, lawyer, accountant, associate professor, and etc. I know that there are successful African Americans in the fields I just mentioned, but not many. And I would guarantee that the road they had to travel to reach such goals gave them much pain.In order for Barack Obama to become President, he had to use more money and media time than any other candidate in history, to get elected. He had to persuade America that he was non-threatening, and trustworthy. He had to work to make America comfortable with him, not as a person, but as a African American. Without the money and media coverage(along with his education, charisma, and experience), there would not be a President Obama today.

For everyday African Americans, we have to work hard just to be lucky. Meaning, we HAVE to have to be high school honor students, we HAVE to have a college education, or we HAVE to be the best athletes in whatever sport, just to wait and hope a White employer or team owner to pick us. Until then, the many hard working African Americans wait in fear that either we are not good enough or that our race will hinder us from our success. This is not a delusion, but a reality where as the longer we wait, the more susceptible we are to giving up on our dreams, and accept lives that are far beneath our abilities and talents. African American people still have to prove their worth in this country in order for Whites(who own and control the vast majority of businesses and job opportunities) to feel comfortable enough to give us a chance. I do not mean to offend anyone by this post, but the pain and hardships people of African Decent experience everyday, should never have to be burdened upon anyone. We shouldn't have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars and constantly be on TV before we can be "judged by the content of our character" as Dr. Martin Luther King once said.

We as Americans must confront our pain and fear of one another in order to survive. Lets make sure that we give ALL people a fair chance to succeed and thrive.