A portrait of the artist as a young man

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat (Photo: Courtesy of Benno Friedman/Corbis Outline)

Jean-Michel Basquiat would have turned 50 years old today. One of the most influential artists of his generation, Basquiat began his career as a graffiti artist on the streets of Brooklyn in the ’70s. By the time of his death in 1988 at the age of 27, he had created hundreds of paintings that are now showcased in various museums and art galleries around the world.

Filmmaker Tamra Davis painted her own portrait of the artist in her latest documentary, “Basquiat: A Radiant Child.” I recently talked to Davis about her film and her special friendship with Basquiat.
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The rap on the ‘global currency war’

If your eyes glaze over when you hear words like “currency manipulation” and “floating the remnimbi” fear no more. The mad geniuses at Next Media have come up with the perfect primer for the G20 Summit currently underway in South Korea: an animated rap battle between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

While almost all of NMA’s video are amusing (if not sometimes a little hyperbolic), this one is really helpful!

Fran Lebowitz on ‘the worst kind of girlishness’

I’m late to the party regarding this video, but wanted to share it with fellow latecomers. Humorist and raconteur Fran Lebowitz riffs about Jane Austen for the Morgan Library’s exhibit, “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy,” which closed earlier this year.

With her signature sneer, Lebowitz skillfully debunks the contemporary understanding of Jane Austen as an 18th-century Candace Bushnell. For Lebowitz, Austen’s enduring popularity can be traced to the “enormous extent to which she’s misunderstood.” Implicit to this critique, no doubt, are the endless film adaptations that have recast Austen’s enduring classics – “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense & Sensibility” and “Emma” to name a few – as chick-lit romances, while ignoring the writer’s uncommon intelligence and deft sense of irony.

But Lebowitz reserves the full force of her disdain for contemporary readers who look to extract “life lessons” from fiction. Calling such impulses “philistine” and “beyond vulgar,” she reminds us that, “A book is not supposed to be a mirror, it’s supposed to be a door.”

Loving your curls

As a member of the “Sesame Street” generation (I was 3 when it premiered),  I was reminded today of why it’s still relevant. There’s a new “Sesame Street” song that teaches little black girls to love their hair. The late Gerald Lesser would be proud.  Why is this so important? Well first, there’s a clear media message absorbed by all young girls about the preferred standard of beauty. The average American model is 5-foot-10, 110 pounds and white.

In her early days as a comic, Whoopi Goldberg  created a heartbreaking character, a little black girl who would always wear a towel on her head so she could have “long, luxurious hair” like her dolls. Then there’s also the complicated politics of black hair. What does it mean about your ethnic identity if you wear your hair natural or if you have it chemically processed to look straight? Chris Rock tackled the subject in his brutally honest documentary, “Good Hair.” I was cornered once by a network news producer who begged me to straighten my hair.

I didn’t do it. But by then I was a grown woman. Let me tell you, I would have loved to have seen that “Sesame Street” video when I was five.

The other alternate reality of ‘Back to the Future’

This month marks the 25th anniversary of  Robert Zemeckis’ classic film, Back to the Future.

Much of the movie’s success can be attributed to the way it expertly straddled the genres of science fiction and comedy, while somehow managing to simultaneously operate as a true coming-of-age tale. In a way, it’s a movie that has it all: romance, high-speed chases, a perfectly despicable bad guy and, of course, a plutonium-fueled Delorean that travels through time!

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In ‘Inside Job,’ a new doc about the financial crisis, no one looks good

Inside Job,” a documentary detailing the causes of the financial collapse of 2008 and its aftermath, is a scathing critique of U.S. policies of deregulation since the 1980s — a critique that extends to Republicans and Democrats alike. At a New York Film Festival screening of the film, director Charles Ferguson said that one of the most difficult decisions he made was to include a section deeply critical of President Obama’s handling of the crisis. Ferguson, an Obama supporter during his presidential campaign, described the lack of comprehensive financial reform under Obama as a “tragedy” for America.

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Tomorrow and tomorrow and … today!

Patrick Stewart is in the grip of destiny as Macbeth on Great Performances — a photo our designer instructed me to position "as you like it." Photo: Manuel Harlan/Illuminations TV - WNET.ORG

Shakespeare geeks across the country no doubt woke up this morning with the same thought in their heads that I did: Macbeth! Patrick Stewart! Tonight! Yay.

For those of us who clumsily managed to miss the live performance of this production in Brooklyn two years ago, its arrival on Great Performances feels like an act of grace, a second chance to see what The New York Times called a “good and nasty interpretation” of Shakespeare’s bleakest meditation on power, fate and evil. And ghosts! And witches! And floating things!

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Congo soldiers on why they rape

The widespread use of rape in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been an underreported topic during the many years that it has been occurring. But lately it has been making more headlines in the U.S, most recently with today’s New York Times story on the U.N.’s failure to prevent a “frenzy of rape” in the Congo.

Need to Know’s own interview with Anneke von Woudenberg further explored the Congo’s culture of impunity that has allowed rape to continue. The news is disturbing, but even more harrowing might be the words of the fighters in the Congo themselves, as they candidly explain why they have chosen to rape women during the conflict.


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An anthem for immigrant rights is set to video

Gogol Bordello released a new music video earlier this week for “Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher),” a song performed by lyricist and frontman Eugene Hütz during an interview with Need to Know earlier this summer. In that interview, Hütz explains the lyrics of “Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher)” as fighting words that support immigrants in the face of what he calls, “double standards of immigration policies of most hosting countries and the uncompromising belief in a freedom of choice of your residence.”


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