I can't remember the day or even the year it actually happened. All I know
is that one day, there we were, the two of us spending a weekend together
in the Berkshires-- dining out, shopping and enjoying Mother Nature-- acting
like old friends telling jokes and remembering the good times. The startling
(and wonderful) thing about this outing was that I was hanging with my mother.
The woman whom I thought could never understand me, who would never see
things my way. This was my Parent-- my provider and punisher for the past
30 years. But somewhere between college and turning 30, just when I was
feeling the full pressures of adult life-- finding a fulfilling job, managing
my debt and dealing with crazy boyfriends-- our relationship transitioned,
or better yet, it evolved. Just when I needed some direction and insight,
my mother became my friend-- listening, advising (usually) when asked and
even joking around. I realized then just how much family matters. The type
of relationship we have with our folks is so important in our development
as adults. I'm not saying that everyone's got to be on some Huxtable tip
with their parents, but how we relate to (or not relate to) our folks will
surely manifest itself in the type of friends we choose, partners we love
and kind of life we end up living.
And what better time to discuss the importance of family than around the
Holidays. In this issue we speak with three sisters who, in one way or another,
were tremendously affected by their mom or dad. Maria Perez-Brown, the creator
and executive producer of Nickelodeon's Taina waxes cultural about how life
as a Boriqua is one where la madre es numero uno; Cedella Marley celebrates
the legacy of her dad through her new clothing line and writer@large, Thembisa
Mshaka, opens up and gets real deep on how suppressed anger towards her
father was slowly unraveling her career and her marriage. As the saying
goes, you get to choose your friends, but it's your family you get stuck
with forever. So here's to making the best out of tight situations. Happy
by Nicole Moore
Perez-Brown enters a room you better make sure your seat belt is fastened
and that your tray is in the upright position because this media power
player has got the kind of energy and charisma that rocks foundations,
making folks dizzy with anticipation and amped for whatever. Maria's laugh
is dead on J. Lo and in tried and true Boriqua fashion, she talks fast,
laughs hard and impassions fiercely.
As the President of Dorado Entertainment, Maria has a number of production
credits under her belt including Creator and Producer of Nickelodeon's
"Gullah Gullah Island," and Creator and Executive Producer of
"Taina," another popular Nick series about a teenage girl trying
to find a balance between her very traditional Puerto Rican family and
her MTV loving crew at school.
To say that Maria yearned to take a different path than her mother-- who
was married by fourteen and a single parent, mother of four by the time
she was 20-- is a huge understatement. Born in Dorado, Puerto Rico, Maria
was hitting the books hard as a teen and subsequently attended Yale and
then NYU Law. After cutting her teeth as a tax lawyer in New York City,
Maria slowly transitioned into the entertainment business. She recently
completed her first book, "Mama: Latina Daughters Celebrate Their
Mothers," which will hit shelves sometime this spring. Sitting with
her in her midtown office, it was apparent that Maria, like her character
Taina, is all about finding balance in her life between her career and
her culture, her job and her home. Let's face it, at the end of the day
and especially at the beginning of a new year, what sister really wants
to live la vida loca?
theHotness: How did you move from
the tax department of a law firm to producing Taina-- your resume makes
the transition sound seamless?
Maria Perez-Brown: The transition was seamless and then it
wasn't. I graduated from law school and got in a big firm. It's very difficult
to get a job at one of those firms and if you're a person of color and
you get one, you feel like you have arrived. But when I got there I realized
that it wasn't feeding my spirit. And I coincidentally happened to land
in the tax department of this firm. Now there is nothing exciting about
taxes. Nothing! The only thing exciting was getting the check at the end
of the week. I just realized early on that I wasn't happy with what I
was doing. I did not look forward to waking up and looking at tax codes
all day long. Looking back though, I think it was a necessary period.
It made me a very meticulous person, a very good writer, it made me focus
and be very methodical. It just gave me some skills that I've been able
to use later as a producer-- skills that you need to be good producer.
But I was totally bored and that was the bottom line. I remember one day
going to this pension plan seminar at work and I looked around and I just
saw all of these middle-aged, bored and really miserable looking people.
It's one of those moments were you just have an existential experience
and you look around and go, 'Oh my God! Everyone in this room is ugly.'
I was like, 'I gotta get outta here!' And I mean 'ugly' like people who
clearly were not happy and it showed. I just felt that I had no connection
to anyone. It just wasn't fitting my spirit. I had no connection to people.
I only had connections to paper and I wanted to connect with somebody.
I wanted to do something. So I read all the trades-- Variety, Hollywood
Reporter, joined the Black Filmmakers Foundation and bartered my services
and took classes. After I got my feet wet I was ready to leave my job
because I felt that I had to do what I love. So I took a calendar and
picked my last day at work. And there were hard times, when I just didn't
know where the next check was gonna come from. But you what know? Something
always came through.
tH: What did your mom think of you
leaving your high profile law gig to go into the risky field of entertainment?
MPB: Oh my family was a whole 'nother
thing. My mom was a single mom and she was so proud that I was lawyer
she didn't even know what I did. She was just like, 'my daughter's a lawyer.'
We would go to family gatherings and they would ask, 'why isn't Maria
married,' and she would go, 'she's a lawyer.' And that was her answer
for everything. So when I had to tell her that I was leaving the law office,
she was like, 'what... what are you doing?!?' We were so working class
and all she knew was that I had made it because I was a lawyer.
tH: So what made you decide to do
a show like Gullah Gullah Island for your first production?
MPB: Well being a smart businesswoman
and a creative person, I knew I had to look at the marketplace and even
though I wanted to do a show with a Latino family, I knew I wouldn't be
able to sell that then. It was 1992 and nobody had heard of a Latino anything.
There were no census numbers
tH: Yeah because the Latin Explosion
hadn't happened. There was no Ricky Martin...
MPB: And no J. Lo. So I knew back
then that they wouldn't have been as receptive as they were later when
I pitched Taina. And I used the Gullah Sea Islands as a model because
that was the closest (African-American) experience to life in Puerto Rico.
They had their own culture that was preserved and it was very African
and part of the experience in Puerto Rico is also very African.
tH: And then there was that Explosion
and the time was right for Taina?
MPB: Oh yeah, folks were shaking their
bon-bon everywhere! (laughter) And Nickelodeon went for it and we've done
two seasons-- 26 episodes and... the show was just cancelled.
tH: No way! What happened? You have
great reviews and great ratings.
MPB: I have no idea!
tH: Do you think it had to do with
MPB: (she laughs loud and then rolls
her eyes) I take the fifth. Honestly I really hesitate to say because
Nick has invested in many shows with Latino characters so, I cant
say they dont want Latino programming.
tH: Well that's their loss. So looking
ahead...tell me about your book.
MPB: "Mama" is a series
of interviews with Latina women about their mothers. These women-- about
30, all have very complex relationships with their mothers. Because they're
second generation women and because they were born in different countries
than their mothers they're struggling with cultural and racial issues
that a lot of other women don't have. So you have the regular complications
that people have with their mothers and then you add to that, all of those
layers of issues that these women are dealing with and you have women
that live in two worlds. But consistently all of the women talked about
having to be successful and happy. And a lot of them give credit to their
mothers for allowing them to follow their dreams and be just that.
TO THE TOP
A Fire ~ Cedella Marley, Designer
Marley's got her daddy's mysterious doe eyes and her mother's ocean-deep
laugh. As the first child of the legendary Reggae singer Bob Marley and
his equally renowned wife, Rita, Cedella's life has been one infused with
music, culture and politics all deeply rooted in the old-school Jamaican
spirit of I and I-- oneself with Jah.
As one of the four Melody Makers, Cedella has not only had the opportunity
to tour the world, but has racked up two Grammy's in the process. Also
a full-time mom of two and the CEO of Tuff Gong International (the label
her dad created) this multi-tasking, 'tree-job-havin' rude gal is adding
"designer" to her cache. This past autumn marked the debut of
Catch A Fire-- a line of customized women's clothing, appropriately named
after Bob's first international album. Drawing inspiration from the unique
ragga style of her pops and the laid-back funky aesthetic of the I-Threes,
Cedella is now using the medium of fashion to keep her father's memory
alive while sharing with the world her own distinct sensibility.
theHotness caught-up with the outspoken forty-year old at her New York
City showing. With her mom sitting by her side rubbing her back and her
brothers singing in the adjoining room, Cedella talked about the connection
between fashion, family and the power of fire.
theHotness: With a clothing line named
"Catch A Fire," what do you hope to represent and embody in
the world of fashion?
Cedella Marley: Just fire. Blaze 'em
up. Smokin'. I'm just tired of these people doing the same old thing all
the time and everybody just being pretentious and not being real with
each other. People know what I do because of who my parents are and so
I'm not scared to show you my leaf... to burn my fire.
tH: Your father is considered a spiritualist
and an activist. He was a Rastafarian...
CM: ...and he was cute.
tH: Yeah he sure was. But you being
a fashionista doesn't that in someway contradict or conflict with your
father's spiritual grassroots persona?
CM: No. The one thing that everybody
knows about my father is that beautiful women were a part of his life.
I dont know if he ever went to a fashion show, but he picked out
his clothes mindfully. And he was all that you said, but he also wanted
to look good too.
tH: What type of inspirations did
you draw from when designing the spring line?
CM: Well you see my T-shirts that
say 'Boss Nigger'? I went online to Blaxploitation.com and it's so weird
just how energy travels. For real, you know? I started to pick out old
Black artwork. I even have some cartoon artwork, and not some Peanuts
stuff either. But it's some shit man. Before (tonight's) show I asked
everyone, 'who wants to wear the Boss Nigger t-shirt?' And everyone said
no. Even the Black girl who works for me said, 'Im not gonna wear
that!' And I said, 'why not?' And she said 'Because I'm not a nigger.'
I said, 'you're not? Then what are you?' She said, 'I'm half Chinese.'
tH: So YOU don't have a problem being
the Boss Nigger?
CM: Oh no! I had the shirt made in
pink just for women like me. When I wear it, I know what I want it to
represent. That's my personal shit. For me it's fire. We need to feel
free to express ourselves.
tH: How thin is the line between exploiting
your father's image and extending his legacy?
CM: His image is not being exploited
through CAF. And you know what? I loss my dad when I was 13 years old
and I really don't give a fuck what people wanna say about 'exploiting.'
If I can have a picture of his face in front of my face everyday, then
that's my business, my joy. If somebody wants to draw their little thoughts
from it, then that's their business. You know, I am my father's child.
out these shots from Catch
A Fires first US show during Fashion Week in NYC.
TO THE TOP
Should but Daughter
Dedicated to Angry Daughters
by Thembisa Mshaka
the summer of 1990, I threw my father away. I am his first child. I was
his prize. Throughout my life he let me know it with frequent plane rides
to his native Philadelphia where I was spoiled rotten by his parents and
siblings. He taught me about jazz music as we sped down the highways of
my native Los Angeles. He cheered me on in gymnastics and took me to Laker
games, crowning me a lifelong fan. Most of the time he had a camera slung
over his shoulder to document our life as a family.
But that August he betrayed me. He came to visit me before my sophomore
year at Mills College began. I actually expected him to drive solo. Instead,
he brought along Norma-- who I later found out was his new woman.
Earlier that same summer, he took me to the park and sat me down for a
father-daughter talk. I knew it would be serious, probably about sex,
boys, and the importance of school, but that's when he lowered the boom.
He and mom were not getting along and they were getting a divorce. This
news came out of nowhere. I rarely saw them argue, much less fight. Everything
had been fine. But suddenly he was leaving me, leaving us. My sister and
brother were 8 and 7 respectively. I was 17.
I was devastated, but I had no idea how angry I was until that fateful
August afternoon. As we left the park, I made up my mind right then that
I was on my own. So I threw myself into school, excelling academically
and socially to prove I was still whole. When my pops left, so did the
income he brought with him, so I got a paid internship. My grandpop helped
me cover expenses by sending a hundred dollar "fishcake" from
Philly each month. Between work, school, and friends, I thought I was
over it when he called to say he was driving up for a visit. But I wasn't.
And seeing him with some strange woman who wanted me to be her friend
was all it took for me to write him off. I mean, he was still in his marriage
of 17 years! What kind of father couldn't even make his divorce official
before shoving 'the other woman' down his daughter's throat? All the admiration,
respect and trust I had for him was gone. Our family was torn apart and
crippled financially. And I blamed him. I could not return to school after
the winter break without $10,000 cash for my tuition, which he had promised
to pay no matter what when I got accepted. Miraculously, other family
members made good on his broken promise, sending me back to Oakland with
a cashier's check for the full amount. I blamed him for being broke and
behind in school. I blamed him for my mother being left with the burden
of caring for three kids on a social worker's salary. I blamed him for
leaving my younger sister and brother without a father in the house to
give them everything he gave me.
The drive and overachievement continued. I graduated from Mills on time
with honors. I met the love of my life and married him in 1997. I got
a great job in advertising and we moved to New York a year later. We had
our precious son Mecca Jihad in 2000. From the outside, it looked like
I had everything-- a powerful reputation, an accomplished career, a supportive
husband and a growing family of my own. But on the inside, there was something
missing, and it was costing me everything I had worked for. I was always
tired, out of shape, unmotivated to eat well or work out. Happiness eluded
me-- my spirituality suffered, and my work held no joy. I blamed it on
being in a cramped apartment in an overcrowded city with a new baby, an
unemployed husband and very little disposable income. But none of those
circumstances were the cause.
Many of us spend years of our lives and thousands of our dollars in therapy
to uncover the source of our angst in relationships, our anger at the
world and at ourselves. I was fortunate beyond measure to avoid that.
I found the answers to why what was happening in my life through a simple
3-day seminar. I got the tools to design my life instead of being resigned
in it. In a word, I discovered the work of transformation-- the transformation
of being human. I realized that I was missing the peace that comes from
feeling worthy of love. I believed the divorce had robbed me of the love
my father told me I deserved. This belief made me fearful and insecure
in my marriage. I was pretending that my marriage was going to last forever,
when in reality, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop; waiting for
my husband to leave me just like Dad. I made my husband pay for that fear
dearly. I punished him in our daily existence, needing to control it completely.
Everything had to go my way, from where we vacationed to when we were
intimate. The tension between us was palpable. Distance and mistrust crept
in between us. The impact on us both was crippling. We could not be free
with one another. Only God knows how our son felt, because he was too
young to articulate it.
The seminar showed me that what I believed about my father's actions and
choices was something I made up. The story had trapped me in the past
and held my future in its grip. I had to separate the story from what
happened, which simply put, was that my father and mother divorced. I
however made it mean that he threw me away, and that I was entitled to
do the same to him. I saw that I was being his judge and jury, and in
doing so had sentenced my own marriage and self-esteem to death. I began
to understand who I had been and invented new possibilities for who I
would be with my father... and in my life. I committed to being the possibility
of acceptance, unconditional love, and freedom of being. In a 20-minute
telephone conversation with my father, I cleaned up seven years of being
ugly, resentful, withholding of my life, and disrespectful to the man
who brought me into this world. I got my father back in 20-minutes flat.
This realization has opened up a new relationship with my father. It has
gone from what my father should do, to what his daughter could do... must
do. I realized I could be loving, generous and great with him. When I
visited Los Angeles for my sister's college graduation, I took him to
a Father's Day dinner with my sister and Mecca. Then the four of us played
on the beach! This was miraculous because a year ago we barely spoke.
I'm loving my life now. I even love the things about it that don't work
because I now have the power to transform them. Remember that laundry
list of complaints I had? Well I have since lost 20-pounds, moved out
of that tiny apartment and bought a 3-family home; watched my husband
become an agent at one of New York's premier real estate firms; started
writing my first book, and found fulfillment in my career. The anger and
pain disappeared right along with my story and returned to me the best
father a daughter could have.
~ Thembisa S. Mshaka is authoring
"Handle Your [Music] Business: Her Guide to Entering, Navigating,
or Exiting the Record Industry."
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