Think Like a Man would appear to be a movie for women, but it’s for men. It is not one of those movies made for women and if the men come alone that’s fine. This movie is about different stages in relationships and gender development, how we look at each other and ourselves. Directed by Tim Story and narrated by Kevin Hart. The movie gives ample screen time to the cast of Jerry Ferrara, Megan Good, Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Kevin Hart, Taraji P Henson, Gabrielle Union, Romany Malco, and intermixes commentary from Steve Harvey.

Trailers for movies often say that they have something in them for everybody; this is the one movie that actually delivers. This movie is about dating and relationships, pure and simple, the audience is treated or not to varied archetypes the Player, The Mamma Boy, The Girl Who Wants the Ring,  The Woman Who Is Her Own Man, etc. Apart from some familiar scenarios (to many men), the movie manages to not only peg the psyche of men, but women as well. Yet somehow in between the gags, comedy, double narration, product placement and drama you manage to see bits and pieces of yourself, your partner or a friend that you can laugh at from a safe distance, that’s when the movie has you invested.

Steve Harvey’s book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, provides the ladies with a rule book of how men think and the game is afoot, once the men find out that their relationships are now being driven by Steve’s book, they plan to turn the tables on the women…basically they plan to pretend to be what the women want only to get what they want. There are plenty of lines for women to be upset about, and a lot of dumb situations men won’t appreciate and some of the premises are manipulative, insincere, in fact they are all pretty shallow, the problem– this is how people really behave and think.

Director Tim Story is to be commended for managing multiple the story-lines and showing each African-American characters as desirable. Not only are the actresses beautiful, sexy and amazingly bright, watching the film you can tell they actually like their roles and that translates on screen. The characters engage us with their hopes, dreams, failing and triumphs, in parts the film is almost magical as the characters often light up the screen. Kevin Hart’s comedic genius is on full display, but so is the subtle humor of Bennett “The Happily Married Man”, I have no idea why commercials for this movie didn’t really plug the substantial presence of the white characters. The film is a tad long, over-narrated and the mamma’s boy story gets drawn out, yet it is arguably the best romantic comedies ever made. The way the male characters played off of one another, how they played basketball (one horribly), how they hilariously talked about their problems, the way they bonded over their women troubles even the various male archetypes reminded me of another book “It Ain’t Just the Size”, but let’s not go there.

The soundtrack is excellent. The casting choices are perfect, except LaLa Vasquez. Each of these four relationship is uniquely different, well because people are, I just don’t understand how Kristen could have gotten rid of Jeremy’s Voltron Lion figure masterpiece… but I digress. The movie is not about how to find true love or even being in a healthy relationship; ultimately, Think Like a Man is about being real, not just with your partner, but more importantly with yourself. Think Like a Man manages to accomplish what Tyler Perry’s movies have never been able to …bring men and women together.

8.5/10

by Push Nevahda

Black ghetto life is so absurd, pointless, hopeless and meaningless that one has to laugh to keep from crying, or go to the dance club to vent the frustration, fear, anxiety and anger rather than let life’s tragicomic existence send us to the asylum or the grave. The tragicomic motif is best seen in black comedy and black music. Black comedy validates and affirms the black ghetto experience while black music cushions the pain of such an experience, sustains the faith, and redirects the heart and mind from things that would otherwise propel one towards suicide, homicide or fratricide.

As one who has spent much of his early life living in the inner-city, I am personally aware of the tragicomic mode of ghetto-life, and the inter-play between music and comedy in such a situation. The way in which the black comedians (especially the ones on BET) bear witness to what is funny yet comforting to black folk because we are glad that somebody understands the depth of our struggle. In other words, black comedians validate the ghetto experience therefore reaffirming our sanity (at which sometime or another one is certain they have lost).  Much of Black life contains those salient dimensions of the tragicomic experience where we are often left to cry and laugh – or laugh to keep from crying – of our dilemma.

The late comic genius Richard Pryor was not necessarily trying to be comical but rather tell what it was like to be black in America. The humor in Pryor’s stand-up was in how raw and rich his stories, analogies, anecdotes and characters seemed – particularly to whites, most of who were completely out of touch with the everyday strivings of black ghetto life. For black audiences, Pryor’s humorous testimonials revealed the essence of what it meant to be black in America. Black folks laughed because Pryor had the gall to be so bold with the truth. Too, blacks realized through Pryor that they’d actually survived and strived through tumultuous times (or, as Curtis Mayfield would say, they managed to “keep keepin’ on”.)

Music is the language of black folk. It is how we articulate ourselves. Black music sustains blacks in the ghetto. Especially inner-city blacks, for whom life can be so ridiculous, that one has to go to the dance club to unwind from the long and arduous week of working, hustling, stealing, conning, begging, pillaging, scheming, blaming, cussing, and doing whatever else it takes to keep ones head above sea-level. So, when the weekend finally arrives, it’s time to release the pent-up frustration and anger, and let it go. And what better way to let it all go than with the titillating elixir of Hennessey, and the Isley Brothers soothing, soulful, and syrupy love ballad, Voyage To Atlantis. And, for the true bona-fide, dedicated, unionized, card-carrying member of the ghetto elite there is nothing comparable to sitting in the club listening to R. Kelly sing about the complex events and dramatic moments of black ghetto love, sex, lies and romance. This is what R. Kelly means when he sings in “Happy People”: “Where do we go soon as the weekend gets here/The club/Why?/ To party and have some fun/What is it that, Can come and take away all your stress, tell me/Music/No further questions, you have passed my test…”

I’d personally note R. Kelly – along with the rappers – as one of few artists to have fully grasped the tragicomic experiences of black ghetto life. For Kelly, the dance club serves as an alternative to the dangerous and frightening imminence of soul-death and ghetto-murder. Shuckin’, jivin’, gossip, conversations, afro-rhythmic dancing (aka ball-roomin’, steppin’ and the hustle), stress-quenchin’ drinking, and soul-stirring music necessarily beset the place and space for blacks to come together and soothe, caress, stroke, and embrace one another’s pains, aches, and other daily sufferings. In other words, for Kelly, the club – like church – becomes a sanctuary of healing, praising, testimony, and conviviality. Both the church and the club serve as psycho-social retreats for black flight from vicious societal bombardment, rejection, discrimination, and inequality – which is why most saved-and-sanctified folk feel just as comfortable in the club as they do the church. (As a matter-of-fact, most sanctified folk I know often head straight to the club the moment church services end.)

So, when we think of how black folks in the inner city cope with the loss of factory jobs, the rise in unemployment, poverty, homelessness, missed-meal cramps, high murder rates, thugs, bad kids, babymommadrama (yes, that’s a word), lousy politicians and school systems, ineffective protestations against the machines-of-urban-disruption, inequality, no quality, meaninglessness, hopelessness, etc., understand the centrality of BET and television shows like, DEF Comedy Jam and ComicView; understand the cultural necessity neighborhood hotspots and dance-clubs like Yesterdays, Floods and  Mr. Mikes (Detroit), Rain (Las Vegas), Liv (Miami), The Savoy and Club Mayan (Los Angeles), Santos Party House (New York), or the Halo Lounge and the Velvet Room (Atlanta); and understand the genius comical commentary of artists like Richard Pryor, Steve Harvey, Chris Rock, Cedric the Entertainer, and R. Kelly in the lives of common ordinary black folk.

Even if you hate Selento’ Watch Me (Whip/Nae/Nae) song, you must realize it is the Electric Slide,it is the Cupid Shuffle for this generation. Go to any outing and watch how that song brings children together, it unifies them, it is how they cope. For us, music, song, dance, and comedy will always be the vehicles through which we most freely express, articulate, and understand our plights and dilemmas. And on that note, that is “The Reason Why the Colored American Spends So Much Time in the Hood, Laughing and Dancing at the Club, While Drinking His 40 Ounce and Listening to R Kelly”  

Push Nevahda is an author, critical book reviewer, feared intellectual and freelance writer. Get to know him well…

Today one of the biggest publishing markets is Urban Literature. However, Street Lit has come under fire from many angles. With urban novels being turned into Oscar nominated movies such as Precious, this is as good of a time as any to ask what is the state of Black Literature? There are those that say that Street Literature has no real value to Black Literature as a whole, and that it is equivalent to gangster rap’s relation to the larger genre of Hip-Hop. Then there are people who swear by Urban Literature, as they claim that is type of literary fair is the only kind they will consume. Surprising the people who swear by Ghetto Literature the most are middle class black women.  Many Black authors are  relegated to an existence of selling books out their car trunks at every stop, while their white counterparts enjoy the heights of respected best seller lists.  Thousands of black authors have to ‘grind’, and or’ hustle’, while their counterparts have no concept of those two words. Is it the literature that is the problem, or is it those who are writing the literature?

Before I became an author I knew that urban literature had a credibility issue, I just didn’t know how deep that issue really was. I won’t go into how many authors have four or five books, but still don’t know how to use a simile, yet and still street literature dominates the market. With so many titles selling like hot cakes and its proponents saying ‘I’ve sold X amount of books” , “people are buying it’. So why would anyone think that there is a problem with black literature? I have heard statements similar to these being uttered by crack dealers of the 80s, as  justification as to why they sold drugs.  At a book event I overheard an author say “I am an Essence bestseller”, followed by the publisher snickering, is that respect?  This is not to say that there are not some wonderfully well written positive African American books out there. There are many stories of black success and black triumph, but are black people reading those books? “Any story celebrating the beauty and strength of black family life, the power of education, and the desire to succeed in the workplace and in business is now out of fashion.” wrote Juan William in his article titled “Precious’ Little of Value in Ghetto Literature”.

Since “Urban Lit” began as an often overlooked subdivision of the Blaxploitation era, over 40 years ago. The Film genre was considered exploitative because they took place in the ghetto, played up stereotypes and were mostly written by whites. Today Urban Literature contains many element that were present in its now defunct film counterparts the only difference, no is that blacks are at the helm of these projects. The main argument for this type of literature is that it attracts new readers. It has also been said that Ghetto Lit provides escapism, but for many blacks this type of escapism can be had by not opening a book, but a door. After reading a novel filled with busty women and thugs, overflowing with misogyny, depicting female characters as “dime pieces” or “trophies”, novels that proudly display real gritty scenes of  infidelity, criminal activities and murder that go unpunished or they are glorified, one would have to wonder if Marva Allen owner of Hue-Man bookstore in Harlem was right when she said, “It’s not literature it’s fiction… they offer no literary advantages.” Or is there something more to this “Box” that these Black ‘Harlequins’ have put black literature in? Maybe it has something to do with where you find these books in the bookstore. I have never seen the White Literature section, though I have seen American Literature sections devoid of black authors, except for one dimensional books like Steve Harvey’s “Straight Talk, No Chaser” and sport stories of course. Is a book made urban by the skin color of its characters, the skin color of the author, or its content?

In the New York Times article “Their Eyes Were Reading Smut”, Nick Chiles said ,“On shelf after shelf, in bookcase after bookcase, all that I could see was lurid book jackets displaying all forms of brown flesh, usually half-naked and in some erotic pose, often accompanied by guns and other symbols of criminal life. I felt as if I was walking into a pornography shop, except in this case the smut is being produced by and for my people, and it is called literature.” Is Nick Chiles right? Maybe the problem is in the definition, What is literature? If you solely define it as it as publication of printed material then there is no issue, but historically literature has meant much more than that. Rebecca West once said, “Literature must be an analysis of experience and a synthesis of the findings into a unity.” Apparently many disagree, noting that literature can mean many things to many people Nick Chiles mused, “That leaves me wondering where we – writers, publishers, readers and the black community – go from here. Is street fiction some passing fad, or does it represent our future? It’s depressing that this noble profession, one that I aspired to as a child from the moment I first cracked open James Baldwin and Gabriel García Márquez about 30 years ago, has been reduced by the greed of the publishing industry and the ways of the American marketplace to a tasteless collection of pornography.” I do not believe that these articles, bloggers, or reviewers are trying to ‘hate’ on anyone, or ‘knock’ someone’s hustle and neither am I for that matter, but these are legitimate questions, what is black literature? Where do we go from here? Is Black Literature viewed as nothing more than a collection coming of age Pre and Post Prison tales? “A lot of people complain that most of the Urban Lit books are the same three or four stories with different titles, character names and locations . And that many of the authors have the same felonious background story in their bios. I have been to high profile author meetings where terms like “This is Crip Shit” and “Am a Blood” were tossed around with hand signs. It was comical and something I will most likely write about later, but I digress. “Urban List is just like Hip-Hop nowadays” Was Joey Pinkey correct in his widely viewed article, ‘Urban Lit is Dead? ‘

Part Novel, Part Graphic Novel, All Vampire It's going to take guts to walk around with this novel.

Part Novel, Part Graphic Novel, All Vampire
It’s going to take guts to walk around with this novel.

As an author I feel all of these sentiment, but I also believe that urban literature, like hip hop, is not dead and that the problem, with both forms of entertainment, lies in where you get it from. Many people have asked the question I have posed in the title, but there have been no definitive answers. Perhaps this literary dust-up is equivalent to the one going in among our “Black Leaders”, see Al Sharpton and Tavis Smiley.  Perhaps this was summed up in an  article titled ‘The Shaky State of Urban Literature (a book reviewer’s lament)’, “this new millennium of emerging writers and novelists are still struggling to find a place in contemporary literary circles.” For the sake of argument let’s say that the critics in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the blogs are all wrong, or at least mistaken. Let’s say books like mine and The Other Wes Moore are not “really Urban Lit. Let’s say that when you tell a publisher that you are an Essence Best Seller that they do not snicker, not even privately. Let’s say that the media gives black authors the same amount of press and credibility they do their white contemporaries. Let’s say that urban literature isn’t as watered down as hip hop. And let’s say that big publishing houses market African American works as they would the works of others. Does an author not want the respect of their peers? As a people we have always been told to wait for things, that everything takes time, this is what was said decade ago about urban literature. When street literature was young, we heard “it is just starting out, give it some time.” It is now 2011, so the question is has anything changed? Hopefully the documentary “Behind Those Books” answers some much needed questions, regarding the genre future.

Maybe, but now the question  is one of Credibility, but a question for who? Is it a question for The Relentless Aaron’s, Larry Wilson Jr’s, Vickie Stringer’s, and Zane’s of the literary world? Or is our new direction for the Aisha Ford’s, Eric Jerome Dickey’s, and Terry A. O’Neal’s to forge? Or do we follow the examples of James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Phyllis Wheatley, and others? Chances are that those in Ghetto/Street/Urban/African American Literature wont stand up, but the hope is that they will coalesce around something more important than shelf space, money, the thrill of the hustle or fame. Maybe Black literature reader see more of themselves in Rachetville and Grimy than they see of themselves in the future, which is why they haven’t fully embraced black sci-fiction because of how omitted we see ourselves in the future. Unfortunately, like many forms of entertainment, it is all we got.

Perhaps the discussion can best be summed up by what Mo’Nique said when accepting The Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Precious, “Sometimes you have to forgo doing what is popular, in order to do what’s right.”

The Shaky State of Urban Literature (a book reviewer’s lament) http://blogginginblack.com/?p=1076 Urban Lit is DEAD http://www.theurbanbooksource.com/articles/editorials/urbanlitisdead.php “Their eyes were looking at smut” http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/04/opinion/04chiles.html “A critical look at Street Lit” http://www.theurbanbooksource.com/interviews/nick-chiles.php “Precious’ Little of Value in Ghetto Literature” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703740004574514260044271666.html