Saturday, January 28, 2006

Stepin Fetchit Friday...

Yesterday at UCLA, I had the pleasure of attending a book signing/panel celebrating Mel Watkins new book, The Life and Times of Stepin Fetchit. This is significant for me because I'd written a Stepin Fetchit book proposal a few years back. My agent began shopping it just at the time when Watkins' proposal had sold. So that was that. But Mel Watkins is a very good writer, particularly when it comes to black humor, so I'm not mad at him.

Stepin Fetchit, for those who don't know, was the character played by Lincoln Perry. Lincoln Perry had started in vaudeville around the turn of the century, and then was signed by the major studios in the 20s to play what has been termed, derogatory roles. Normally, his character would shuffle into frame, mumble his lines, and act as lazy as white folks thought black folks were. Soon, while playing with people like Will Rogers (the first black/white buddy films), Fetchit was making millions. He was also the first black actor to get first billing.

For years in the black community, the worst thing one could say about a performer was that he was a "Modern Day Stepin Fetchit", meaning that his character embarassed the race. But what makes Fetchit interesting is that he was more complex than what appeared on the screen. He wrote columns for black newspapers like the Chicago Defender, talking about discrimination in Hollywood. He appeared in black cast movies where instead of being a derogatory character, he was simply a comic character. His timing was impeccable, and it's hard not to laugh at a person who obviously is a talented clown.

In the years following his death in the 70s, there's been efforts to rehabilitate his image. Before he died, he received a Lifetime achievement award from the NAACP, and folks will probably do retrospectives on him. However to me, he still presents a problem, particularly as a black screenwriter. My question is this: Is Stepin Fetchit a legitimate part of the African American comedy linage, from Fetchit, Foxx, Cosby, Pryor, Murphy, etc. and therefore a legitimate character, or is he still a derogatory character? And if he's a legitimate character, what are the nuances that divide him from being a derogatory character? I hate the movie Soul Plane because it plays into every derogatory stereotype ever made for African Americans. But Soul Plane is very close to what Stepin Fetchit played. Is Soul Plane legitimate?

Conscious African American screenwriters try to adhere to the doctor's oath of "Do No Harm" to their community. And so writing modern characters that harkens back to Steppin Fetchit are fraught with danger and complexity.

Starting Weight: 226lbs.
Ending Weight Week Three: 217lbs.
Goal Weight: 190lbs.

My weird sleeping patterns messed with my eating schedule, so I was certain that there would be a drop off in weight loss. But last night, I got to bed at one am, so I'm back on track. Regardless, I was still able to get to the Wooden Center three times last week, so my cardio is on track. The goal this week is to sleep right, eat right, and then get in three workouts. If I can do that, I think I can get to either 214 or 215lbs.

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