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Vin Diesel -- a multiracial actor in a white man's world
By Yvette Walker Hollis
Is he, or isn't he? Is it "passing," or simply no one's business?
Vin Diesel is biracial, but you wouldn't know it from the press. Newspapers, TV and radio have interviewed him about everything from girlfriends to violence in film. But race doesn't seem to come up.
It's about time.
In an interview with Alternet,Diesel tells the reporter, "There's something cool about this kind of ambiguous, chameleon-like ethnicity." The report goes on to say that this quality has allowed him to play a range of ethnicities -- from Italian American (Adrian Caparzo in Saving Private Ryan), to black (Richard Riddick in Pitch Black), to ethnically indeterminate (Chris Varick in Boiler Room and Xander Cage in XXX).
Diesel isn't the only white-looking actor in Hollywood to ignore his or her multiracial ethnicity. Keanu Reeves, whose father is Chinese-Hawaiian, Jennifer and Meg Tilly, whose father is Chinese, and Kristin Kreuk (Lana in "Smallville") who also is half Chinese, simply do their jobs and let the acting speak for itself. When asked, they have revealed their ethnicty, they simply don't dwell on it.
Interestingly, most of those actors are of Asian parentage. Most biracial celebrities with African American parentage are quite forthcoming about it -- even when their looks belie their ancestry. Jennifer Beals of "Flashdance" fame is one of the few.
Some parents of biracial children might prefer more revelations. "Where are the role models for my children?", they might ask. When a Tiger Woods or a Halle Berry divulge their ethnicty fairly regularly, biracial children, it is said, have someone to compare themselves to, and to look up to.
But, it's up to the individual to make the decision how and whether he feels the public needs to know. From a journalist's standpoint, I would argue that the public always has a right to know, but from the standpoint of an African American woman married to a European American man, I strongly believe in the individual's rights.
So, Vin, Keanu, Meg, Jennifer, Kristin and others, celebrate your ethnicity when you believe it is appropriate to do so. Do not be ashamed of it, but if you believe it's no one's business, so be it.
|New interracial marriage on Fox sci-fi drama!
|Gina Torres and Alan Tudyk in "Firefly," Fridays on Fox
Justin Guarini, 23, and a native of Doylestown, Pa., made it to the finals of the Fox-TV summer hit show "American Idol," where wannabe pop stars vie for fame and fortune. Guarini is biracial, and his favorite song is Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'. "
When asked why he should be picked as the winner, Justin told TV Guide that he was perfect package, including being "black and white."
The songs he has performed so far include: "Sunny" "For Once In My Life" and "Ribbon In The Sky."
Most Embarrassing Moment - Singing on the steps of the Capitol Building in D.C. during a high school performance, I blurted out the next verse (while everyone else was silent) during a piano soloIt felt like my ears were on fire!
Why Do You Want To Be An AMERICAN IDOL - I want to be a beacon offun! Glitz and glamour are rampant in America, but I want to bring on the fun and share it with an America that now, more than ever, needs joy to get us through our current trials.
If you couldn't sing, what talent would you want? - Film director / cinematographer.
Anything You Would Not Change To Become The American Idol - My personality and outlook on life. I just want to have fun doing what I love.
What's In Your CD Player Right Now - Tenacious D
What are you going to call your first CD? - Just the Beginning
Album Your Friends Would Be Surprised You Own - "Merry Christmas" by Cyndi Lauper
"Monster's Ball" - Starring Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton, directed by Marc Forster
Review by Yvette Walker Hollis
This semi-tragic Oscar nominated tale about two needy people with destroyed lives and screwed-up heads is not a perfect interracial love story. But what movies generally are?
That is not to say that Monster's Ball isn't worth watching, or even worth recommending. It is both. And what makes the film so watchable is it's honesty and refusal to sugarcoat the sad lives of Leticia Musgrove (Halle Berry) and Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton).
Leticia and Hank meet in true star-crossed fashion: Her husband (played by Sean "P-Diddy" Combs) is on death row, and Hank is one of his correction officers. They don't know the other's connection to their fates, however, and meet occasionally at a restaurant he frequents and where she works.
They have another connection, which I won't go into here, but it ties them together with a bond so tight that even racism on the part of Hank's father (expertly played by Peter Boyle) can loosen it.
But is it love? And, possibly more importantly, does it have to be? Or, I suppose, one could ask Tina Turner's question here: What's love got to do with it.
The actors are superb, the direction and editing, captivating. It has garnered two Oscar nominations: Best Actress for Berry and best original screenplay by Milo Addica and Will Rokos.
Review by Hiram Williams
Thandie Newton is wonderful in "Mission:Impossible 2.
The biracial British born actress is indeed lovely, and plays the love interest to Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt with smooth and confident certainty. Unfortunately, as the movie progresses, she becomes the typical and cliched "damsel in distress" who must wait for her knight (Cruise) to come to her rescue.
Thankfully, the chemistry between Newton and Cruise's characters is real. Their love story is not as intense as, oh, Kathleen Turner and Willian Hurt in "Body Heat," but director John Woo's camera work of their initial greeting in "MI:2" is striking in its effect.
In movie short-hand, we literally see the courtship dance (I see you, you chase me, I play hard to get, you chase me again, you catch me, we fall in love) in a scene where Spanish dancers are performing.
During this moment, Cruise's and Newton's characters meet for the first time. The initial introduction is nothing more than eye-to-eye contact (I see you) across a crowded room of people in the midst of a party. Again, the cliche is seeing people across a crowded room. Woo makes it fresh as he cuts between the dancers and our characters -- beautifully done in typical Woo fashion.
Newton, who's playing Nyah, a thief, is at the mansion to steal jewels. Cruise follows her and thwarts her attempt (you chase me, I play 'hard to get'). It's during their next meeting that the romance begins as Cruise literally chases her down in an entertaining car chase. Newton drives
one car, Cruise chasing closely behind.
The cars start spinning out of control (mimicking the dance sequence we saw earlier) in a dance toward a cliff. The scene ends with Newton in Cruise's arms. The very next scene they are in bed and Cruise is telling her how amazingly beautiful she is (you catch me, we fall in love).
Woo is an action director, so after the romance and "falling in love" sequence, it's action and more action -- which is fine, but it weakened the love story. It would have been nice to see more interaction between the two characters.
I've read and heard nothing but the best about Newton in this role. I believe the interracial romance works because it works on two levels.
One, Newton is not quite a household name, so she brought the mystery of who she is to most movie-goers. We are introduced to her just as Tom Cruise's character was and, like him, the audience connects with her beauty.
Secondly, and most importantly, there is genuine chemistry between the two actors. Much of the time an interracial love story between hi-powered stars on the movie screen (what few there are) seems forced ("The Bodyguard" anyone?), but Cruise and Newton not only looked natural, they were natural and it made the difference in their scenes together.
It's been reported that when Newton was first contacted to star in "MI:2" to be Cruise's love interest, she reacted by saying, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. The girls are going to be screaming while the men are showing off their muscles." She was semi-correct.
Make no mistake about it, this is an action movie. It is a John Woo movie. Flashy action, intense slow-mo photography, great choreography between actors and memorable scenes -- it was the summer movie event.
However, at its heart, the story of a lethal virus that must be rescued from the hands of criminals by the IMF (Impossible Mission Forces) team is a love story. It's an interracial one that works, albeit not nearly long enough before the movie turns typical.
"White Chocolate," by Elizabeth Atkins Bowman
Review by Staci J. Pratt
Biracial author Elizabeth Atkins Bowman presents the tale of television reporter Taylor James, a woman who embraces her ethnically rich heritage and senses her unique potential to impact the world for the better. Part-romance novel, part-thriller, the book explores the tension that arises when a childhood sweetheart returns to town and a group of white supremacists incarcerated due to Taylor's investigative reporting are released from jail.
Early in the novel, she recalls a childhood conversation with her father which offered her a sense of place. Envisioning his "warm brown eyes, his nutmeg complexion, and his salt-and-pepper beard," Taylor remembers his counsel, "You're a beautiful symbol of America's melting pot. But sometimes the pot seems to hold an impossible stew - big chunks of stuff that won't mix with the other ingredients. That's why God made people like you, a catalyst to blend all the elements, no matter their color or creed."
Resembling both her father and her Scandinavian mother, Taylor's blending of identities equips her to readily pass between racial communities. Her multiracial heritage thereby presents her with a tool to confront racism but also with an obstacle to romantic happiness. This also poses a conflict for the reader: much of the narrative seems focused on Taylor's remarkable intelligence and independence - yet she repeatedly calls for rescue by the male leads in the story.
By "passing for white," Taylor attends an Aryan rally in the Michigan woodlands and exposes the illegal activities of the neo-Nazi clan. At the same time, Taylor must confront the discomfort expressed by her bronze-skinned childhood sweetheart regarding her light complexion.
Nicknamed White Chocolate by childhood love Julian DuPont, she struggles to overcome the conflicts created by this duality. Always "hope for a better day," her mother reminds Taylor, and the readers as well.
As a thriller, the plot opens with steam. We are immersed in the Aryan rally where Taylor, as an undercover biracial journalist, may be readily discovered. Dramatic tension and suspense fill the air. However, the novel quickly changes pace, devoting far more of the ensuing pages to daily life in the newsroom and the romantic interaction between Taylor and Julian.
"White Chocolate" explores important themes, however, the change in pace might be too dramatic for those not interested in life inside a television newsroom or in romantic novels.
Music by Elton John, Lyrics by Tim Rice
Review by Yvette Walker Hollis - (see one reader's take on the musical, following this review)
"Aida," the musical hit on Broadway, and suggested by the classic opera of the same name by Giuseppe Verdi, tells the story of an enslaved Nubian princess who is taken captive by an Egyptian leader. The two eventually fall in love, to a tragic end.
The musical is a Disney production, and has all the beauty, elaborate costumes, stage and effects as "The Lion King," among other Disney productions. The singing is great, the acting good by Broadway standards.
But one question must be asked: Can a two-hour Broadway musical (read, upbeat) tell the complex story of "Aida?" Even script author David Henry Hwang entertained the same thought:
"This is a story about people torn between personal passion and political responsibility, about love transcending hate and ancient division. And we can offer no easy answer. The text can't imply, "oh, love solves everything," because it doesn't. On the other hand, love isn't impotent. It does affect change ... I wanted to get as much of that complexity and ambiguity into the story as I could."
Both Broadway and classic opera tradition avoid too much complexity of emotion. It is easier to write moments of song when people fall head over heels, instead of falling into guarded attraction. But in "Aida," it seemed fake.
I could understand Rhadames, the Egyptian leader, who already has chosen irrational imperialism over humanity, to fall in irrational love. But Aida, a level-headed, strong leader of her people, fall in love with her tormentor so easily?
Maybe I needed another act in which she could anguish over this decision. Even after the Egyptians capture her father, she still clings to love. Fortunately, Rhadames has seen light by this point.
As with many ancient stories, interracial love ends badly, and it ends badly here. But I applaud Disney for casting a beautiful black woman (not by show business standards - she is dark-skinned and has short hair) and a handsome white man wrapped up in each others arms for all to see.
It is a start.
By Chase Evans (a reader from Los Angeles)
I did find the review of Aida a litle misleading. This particular production does have a happy ending. It's about a fated couple. At the beginning present day Aida and Radames are drawn to the same Egyptian exhibit in a museum. This sets off the flashback story of the ancient Aida and Radames. At the end of their flashback story they sing a song about being able to find each other through time and space and at the end of the play, the contemporary Aida and Radames realize that they have indeed found each other again in the present day. I would consider that a happy ending. And given that interracial couples don't often get a big romantic story with a happy ending, for example the Broadway show Marie Christine ended with the biracial Marie Christine killing her biracial children as a gesture of revenge against her arrogant white lover, I would hate for people to read the Aida review and think more of the same and miss out on a show they might enjoy.
"Snow Falling on Cedars"
By Yvette Walker Hollis
Part mystery, part tragic romance and part historical film, "Snow Falling on Cedars" makes you work. But the payoff is well worth it.
A beautifully filmed movie, "Cedars" is as lush and vivid as any movie I've seen. The setting in a fictitious Washington state island town is rich with forests, farmlands and beaches. You can almost smell the dirt or feel the salty sting of the Pacific Ocean. The plot is just as lush, but complex in its telling.
A story of unrequited love, jealousy and racial hatred, "Cedars" stars Ethan Hawke as Ishmael, a young journalist working for his family newspaper who must decide whether to help the husband of his first love, Hatsue (Youki Kudoh), a Japanese-American woman. Her husband, Kazuo (Rick Yune) is on trial for the murder of a childhood friend and present adversary.
Ishmael's obsession with Hatsue is so fierce that it obscures everything around him. Told in repeated flashback scenes, it doesn't matter that they come from two different worlds, or that they can't even admit to knowing each other. Time is not kind to their doomed relationship: they
meet and fall in love shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent U.S. internment camps. When Hatsue is taken away to the camps, she makes the painful decision to get on with her life, and writes Ishmael to do the same. She marries Kazuo in the camp.
Ishmael gets the news from Hatsue at a particular low time (we won't reveal his situation here) and grows bitter. The culmination of his anger and pain comes in two words that the viewer can hardly believe utter forth from his lips: "Jap bit--!"
Yet, he can't forget her and their teenage love. His mother encourages him to forget her, as does another family friend. Hatsue, while still in love with Ishmael at first, grows to love Kazuo. She makes a home, has children, and does what Ishmael can't: Get on with life, hopes and dreams.
Does Ishmael help Kazuo avoid prison? They mystery element is interesting, but it is finding out whether Ishmael conquers his obsession that is the most important part of the film. It drives everything else.
Obviously Ishmael and Hatsue never get together in the film. But this is not another case of the tragic interracial love story. "Snow Falling on Cedars" does an admirable job of letting history demand that they stay apart, while not passing judgment on the relationship. So tender and passionate is the filming of their forbidden love (it's questionable whether they actually consummate the relationship) I believe that if director Scott Hicks ("Shine") could do it again, he might figure out a way the two could be together.
Because of the images of passion, and graphic wartime violence, this might not be a movie for
the kids. But adults who can sit back and hang on will find an exhilarating ride well worth the trip.
Other films on interracial relationships
"Flirting," starring Thandie Newton (Australian import
"Knights and Emeralds," (British import)
"Loving Isaiah," starring Halle Berry
"The Bodyguard," starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner
"Jefferson in Paris," starring Nick Nolte and Thandie Newton
"Jungle Fever," starring Wesley Snipes
"The Nephew," starring Pierce Brosnan
"One False Move," starring Bill Paxton
"Restaurant," starring Adrien Brody and Elise Neal
"Joey Breaker," starring Cedelia Marley and Richard Edson