The unruly brain and bad habits of a writer, artist, and grilled cheese sandwich-enthusiast.
Poop-ditty-whoop-scoop… Poop! Poop!/
– Kanye West, “Lift Yourself”
So. 2018. That was a year, eh?
It was a shitty year, a painful year, a Batman’s-dick-illustrated-in-DC-Comics of a year.
It was a year in which the highs of #MeToo were dealt the low blows of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation and Asia Argento’s accusations. It was a year so full of hate that the FBI reported an all-time spike in hate crimes. It was a year in which “fake news” took on a whole new meaning as China turned their news over to a computer-generated on-air personality.
It’s times like this when we look to our entertainers to distract us from this kind of dread, but they had their own problems: from Drake beefing with Pusha T (resulting in a fantastic album for the latter the revelation of a secret baby for the former) to all the stupid shit Nicki Minaj did (picking on Cardi B, defending her pedophile brother, dissing Travis Scott for successfully promoting his own album in a way that failed when Nicki tried the same method, and her plagiarizing Tracy Chapman) to Steph Curry saying he believes the moon landing was faked.
And then… there was Kanye. Oh, Kanye. I’m gonna have to write an entire piece on Kanye, because I have too much to sum up here.
This was the year Trump proud called himself “a Nationalist” the exact same week Democrats were mailed pipe bombed, Megyn Kelly defended blackface, and a synagogue was shot up. It was the year fertility rates were shown in stark decline and the world was given just-over-a-decade to fix climate change.
Add to that that I officially hit my 10-year mark on being unemployed – to say nothing of the fact that I didn’t win a single audition – and yeah: This. Year. Sucked.
So… why the hell am I so optimistic?
Well, quite frankly, a lot of reassuring things happened to me, too. For starters, I decided to return to modelling. Not a common thing at my age, but the photos looked great and I wound up doing a nude photoshoot with an amazing female photographer that did wonders for my self-confidence. It was the year that I broke my three-year Facebook sabbatical for the best possible reason: to permanently delete my account.
It was a year in which I did a lot more directing, even to where I had to fill in for an actor who flaked on me an hour before a show. It was a year in which the ties I have with close friends got even tighter. It was a year in which, despite not actually getting hired, I got further along in the hiring process than ever before. (‘Course, I still need a fuckin’ job, but you get what I mean.)
Interestingly enough, it was a year in which I found out that yes, people actually do read this here site o’ mine. Bay Area theatre folk not only read it, they’ve officially started listing me on their “industry” and “press” rosters – through no action on my part! Hell, one director has cursed my name so much that she’s certain I have a vendetta against her (I don’t, I just called out her racism and she tried to whitesplain that I didn’t know what I was talking about) and another Artistic Director almost fired a friend of mine because they AD didn’t like the negative review I gave her company’s show. Even my review of the film Stuck got attention from crew members who didn’t want to be associated with such a piece of shit. And if my stats are any indication, more people have read my review of Hostiles than have actually seen the movie (which makes sense – it sucks).
That’s all encouraging. Perhaps not as encouraging as knowing that 2018 showed that the ozone layer is healing or that Israel and Arab steps toward peace are the closest they’ve been in decades (though those things are great, too). Nevertheless, it’s great to be reassured that the words I throw out into the ether of the Internet are actually read. It means that my voice matters. It means that the things I say actually do have an impact. It means that I should not give up that power because even if it’s the only power I have, it’s power worth having.
2018 most certainly not my favorite year, but every positive thing that happened proved one indisputable truth beyond a shadow of a doubt: I shouldn’t give up. So, I won’t. I won’t give up on my job-hunt, I won’t give up on my acting, I won’t give up on my writing, I won’t give up on my fellow born-native San Franciscans about staying here in our how, I won’t give up on Kanye West (you heard me), I won’t give up on my city, I won’t give up on my country, I won’t give up on my friends, I won’t give up on the world.
I. Won’t. Give. Up.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what was my take on the past year’s entertainment offerings? Some were great, some were shit, some I can’t even remember. Let’s do a quick rundown, shall we?
WORST ARTICLE I READ: The Bold Italic – Kimberly Reyes “The Dream vs. Reality: On Being Black in San Francisco”
You know how stupid it is when White people make bullshit generalizations about Black people that are taken a face value? Well, this is a piece by a (Black) woman from New York that makes bullshit generalizations about San Francisco. This woman seems to want to embody every ridiculous stereotype about the SF transplant who’s disappointed to find it isn’t their own personal Land of OZ.
As both a Black man and an SF native, I’d be remiss no to respond, so I did. Then she blocked me. I stand by every word I said in my response. Not every Black person or SF citizen will have identical experiences, but there’s a point where you need to look inward regarding your own discomfort. This woman wasn’t ready to do that and I wish I didn’t have to read about that lack of readiness.
(If anyone’s curious, a much better version expressing similar concerns – though, about NY – can be found in The Atlantic here.)
(Dis)honorable Mention: CNN Money – Heather Kelly “Here’s how to delete Facebook (it won’t help)”
I read this as I researched how to perma-delete my account. It’s the equivalent of someone saying “Why stop smoking? You probably already have cancer.”
FUNNIEST ARTICLE that used ACTUAL SCIENTIFIC FACT: Gizmodo – “Did something Massive Smash into Uranus?”
I almost never say this, but for once… read the comments.
BEST/WORST ADVERTISEMENT: Nike’s Colin Kaepernick spot
Don’t get me wrong: I love Kaep and have his red Niners jersey. I think it’s great that he got such a large platform with which to share his message. BUT… Nike is still a major corporation that pays its employee shit, refuses to build factories in the US, and profits off of cheap Chinese labor. They didn’t allow Kaep to speak because they believed in his message, it was just them exploiting civil rights for financial gain.
WORST FILM (tie): Stuck and The Hate U Give
What’s worse: a film that has so much going for it that it decides to shoot itself in the foot (The Hate U Give) or a film that’s just complete shit from start-to-finish (Stuck)? Well, I saw both. These films are everything right-wingers imagine when they think of “Lib’rull Hollywood”, and that’s saying something, considering that The Hate U Give takes a right-wing stance and blames police shootings on the very Black people who are shot. Fuck both of these movies.
Dishonorable Mention: Death Wish and The Predator
MOST DIVISE FILM (amongst myself): Hereditary
I didn’t get to review this, but let me briefly try to now: Hereditary is three or four great films mashed together to make one that’s simply okay. One of those films is a psychological thriller about coping with loss, one is a supernatural mystery, one is a chamber room drama… and one is a balls-to-the-wall, bloody, hardcore grindhouse flick. All of them are great; none of them work together. Still, Toni Collette should have been nominated for her amazing performance.
BEST BOOK I FINALLY READ: Brian McGinty – The Rest I will Kill
This non-fiction book is about the danger that comes from being a Black man amongst a lot of White who won’t to kill and/or enslave you, as well as the so-called “friendly” Whites who try to exploit your freedom. Great stuff.
Honorable Mention: Nnedi Okorafor – Binti
Yeah, yeah – I know it didn’t come out in 2018. Still one of the best things I read. The world needs more Afrofuturism.
MOST DISAPPOINTING FILMS SHOT IN THE BAY AREA: Sorry to Bother You and Blindspotting
I personally know actors in these films. I’ve walked where they were filmed. Both touch on material near and dear to me as a Black man in a changing Bay Area… so why did they both suck for the exact same reason? Everyone talked about how “brave” these films were, but they weren’t. Quite the contrary, they pulled their punches at every possible opportunity. Neither one had the courage of its convictions, and that’s a loss for all of us.
BEST FILM SHOT IN THE BAY AREA: Searching
I really hope this flick isn’t forgotten. I wouldn’t call it the year’s best, but it took the tired premise of the “found footage” film and became something no other found footage film has ever been: good.
BEST FILM. PERIOD.: If Beale Street Could Talk
By a substantially wide margin. It wasn’t even close. After a year of the aforementioned shitty Black films (especially the unforgivable The Hate U Give), this was a gift from God.
BEST TV SHOW: Atlanta
Please, Donald Glover – please don’t take so long between seasons!
Honorable Mentions: Vida, Counterpart, Brockmire
The first two are from Starz!, which is stepping up to the plate against HBO.
WORST TV SHOW: Luke Cage (Se. 2)
I couldn’t even finish it. Someone tell Cheo H. Coker stop writing. Now!
BEST SINGLE: Childish Gambino – “This is America”
Danceable and conscious – what more could you want?
BEST SONG NOT RELEASED AS A SINGLE: Kids See Ghosts – “Reborn”
I can’t think of any other track I listened to as much or that resonated with me so emotionally.
Honorable Mention: Pusha T – “If You Know You Know”
Before he skewered Drake like shishkabob, King Push and Kanye delivered one of the best opening tracks to any album ever.
BEST ALBUM: Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts
It bumps and it’s heart-breaking, what do you want from me?
Honorable Mention: Anderson.Paak – Oxnard, Teyana Taylor – KTSE
MOST ANTICIPATED 2019 ALBUM: Kanye West – Yandhi
Yet another reminder that I should just write my damn Kanye piece already.
WORST TREND IN THEATRE: Treating serious issues with kid gloves.
Whether it be Office Hour fucking up its portrayal of school shootings, In Braunau fucking up on neo-White supremacy, Everybody fucking up mortality, or Detroit ’67 and White pulling punches on racism, I saw far too much theatre in which the playwrights patted themselves on the back for tackling serious issues, but fumbling each and every time. (Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is 0-for-2 at this point. Maybe he should just throw in the towel.)
BEST SHOWS: 4.48 Psychosis at Anton’s Well, Inside Out and Back Again at Bay Area Children’s Theatre, and Eureka Day at Aurora
The first one is a revival Sarah Kane’s infamous “suicide note” play – it handled death realistically and maturely, even through magical realism. The second one is based on a children’s book, but handles racism as something kids may have to deal with. The third takes on one of The Left’s most touchy subjects – vaccinations – somehow balances emotional realism with proven science. All three were great reminders as to why I love theatre.
Honorable Mentions: Two-Mile Hollow by Ferocious Lotus and Seen/By Everyone by Theatre of Yugen
WORST SHOW: Women Laughing Alone with Salad at Shotgun Players
It’s a show that seemed to know it was bad at Feminism, so it decided to add racism. It was two painful hours of talking down to its audience, performed by a cast who have (for the most part) done better.
Dishonorable Mention: A Streetcar Named Desire at Ubuntu
BEST ACTOR WHO JUST HAPPENED TO APPEAR IN SOME GOD-AWFUL SHOWS: Regina Morones
As a critic, I try not to say that any one performer can elevate a single show… but God knows Regina tried. She delivered rock-solid performances in some of the worst productions I saw over the past 12 months. If that isn’t a testament to her talent, I don’t know what is?
MOST CONSISTENTLY SATISFYING COMPANY: Killing My Lobster
WORST CRITIC: George Heymont
Why anyone keeps inviting this racist misogynist to opening nights, I’ll never know?
I’ll leave it at that. It may not be much, but it was what I got.
As I said, I’m strangely optimistic about what the future holds. Probably because I know that I have an active part in it.
I hope to see you there. Peace.
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