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Aug 12, 2005

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Volume 33
Issue 32

 
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AN ABUSE OF POWER
AN ABUSE OF POWER
by Jasmyne A. Cannick

Recently, the Western Regional Director of the Nation of Islam , Tony Muhammad, held a protest on the set of Noah's Arc in Los Angeles, California. Upset over the lack of diversity of the camera crew for a Black production in a Black part of town, Muhammad summoned over 150 people in a matter of 15 minutes to protest America's newest Black series, Noah's Arc.

Racial slurs and epithets we used toward the seemingly non-Black crew. Visibly disturbed at the thought of the Black community being exploited by non-Blacks, the Nation of Islam under Tony Muhammad's direction, stood vigilant yelling "Crackers!" and other derogatory terms used to describe Caucasians.

Did Tony Muhammad know that the set he was protesting was that of Noah's Arc, the first Black Gay television series? Given the Nation of Islam's history with the Gay community it's not that far fetched on an idea that they would protest a show like Noah's Arc, however, this particular incident was racially motivated and not a protest about the show's content.

However, one of the show's crewmembers Mike Elkin, in a post on his blog says: "The mob also wasn't too fond of us once they somehow learned that it was a Gay show."

Either way, racially or content motivated doesn't make what Tony Muhammad did right and was an outright abuse of his power and a waste of better-spent time and energy.

In light of all of the recent controversy in Los Angeles around police brutality, police involved shootings, drive-by shootings between rival gangs and the Urban League's State of Black Los Angeles Report, which indicated striking disparities in conditions for Blacks in Los Angeles compared to other major ethnic groups, Tony Muhammad failed Los Angeles' African American community.

BLACK FILMS AND WHITE CREWS

Though visibly white to Muhammad from the driveway of the set where Noah's Arc was shooting, "the crew of Noah's Arc is probably one of the most diverse sets in Hollywood today," stated the show's creator Patrik-Ian Polk.

What Muhammad didn't see were the make-up, wardrobe, and other crew positions that were held by African Americans. He also didn't acknowledge the fact that this was a Black show. Regardless of whether or not Muhammad agreed with the content of the show, Blacks were working and being paid when he shut down the set. Cast, crew and actors lost pay, including the neighborhood that would have benefited from a successful shoot.

Nevertheless, obviously none of that mattered to Muhammad or the 150 protestors that followed his orders.

While I do support the use of the Black crews on Black productions wholeheartedly, I don't condone the Nation of Islam's behavior.

Looking at the bigger picture and in front of the camera, I could see the 30 African American cast members who are directly benefiting from this show, not to mention a marginalized part of the Black community whose lives will now be validated for the world to see on national television.

THE GAY ISSUE

Although the original protest was racially motivated, several members of the crew feel that the protestors did know that it was a Gay show and that caused more friction between the groups.

One of the set assistants was referred to as a "sissy boy" by Muhammad during the altercation.

A crewmember, Mike Elkin in a post on his blog says: "The mob also wasn't too fond of us once they somehow learned that it was a Gay show."

Given the resistance from the Nation of Islam to allow Gays and Lesbians to participate in the Million More Movement, the 10th anniversary of Million Man March, even after Farrakhan's invitation in February, the Nation of Islam's viewpoint on the Gay and Lesbian community is well known.

It's simply not accepted or tolerated.

This doesn't excuse or justify their behavior.

The actions demonstrated by the Nation of Islam on Friday evening are reminiscent of the nation's history when responding on behalf of the Black community on critical issues of importance. Militant, strong and not willing to negotiate for anything less than justice. However, while it is important to lobby for and support Black crews on Black productions, this was not one of those instances. Instead, this was a clear misuse and flagrant abuse of power.

SHOOTING FILMS IN LOS ANGELES

It should be noted, that Hollywood is not a fan of shooting productions in Black Los Angeles for this exact reason.

Polk, the show's creator, fought long and hard to get permission to shoot in this part of town and the production crew followed the law making sure that the neighborhood was notified before hand of scheduled shooting and the content of the show. Permits and licenses were obtained.

So, who suffers from an incident like this?

Everyone involved, including the community who Muhammad claims to love and support.

The cast, crew, and entire production lose money for a day lost, which has to be made up down the line.

The neighborhood where the shooting was to take place lost out on funds as well as the being able to say that the show was shot in their neighborhood once it starts airing on national television.

But the entire community is the big loser.

Muhammad's actions further feed into Hollywood executives portrayals of 6th and Rodeo, Baldwin Hills, as a "bad part of town," a.k.a. a Black neighborhood. They will be even more resistant in the future of shooting productions in Black neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

Will this send even more productions over to Canada?

THE L.A.P.D.

The other big question surrounding Friday's events is where were the police?

Bob Anderson, the show's medic, was spat upon in face by one of the protestors. According to the show's creator, the L.A.P.D. didn't show up until nearly two hours after the original call for help.

Problem.

When the police arrived, apparently they were more interested in the production set closing down than in pursuing justice.

Problem.

While the Nation of Islam can be scary when convened in numbers, we are talking about the fearless L.A.P.D. The police department that fears no man, woman or child.

As disturbing as these facts are, in being fair I will note that once the L.A.P.D.'s Gay and Lesbian community liaison officer was notified along with Lt. Fred Booker of the Community Relations Department the ball did start rolling and they are cooperating with filing the necessary reports.

NATION OF ISLAM'S GUIDING PRINCIPLES

We [the Nation of Islam] have always been taught to respect the laws of the land. We are taught never to carry arms, to make war or to be the aggressor, for this is against the nature of the righteous. We are taught the Principles of Divine Unity and the Universal Brotherhood of Islam.

Yes, you read correctly.

This comes directly from the website of the Nation of Islam. Minister Tony Muhammad forgot these principles, as indicated through his actions on Friday evening. As a community leader Muhammad failed the community.

Community power should not be abused and manipulated to exploit one's own personal agenda. Instead, that power should be used to uplift and support the community.

COMMUNITY RESPONSE

This issue is not a Gay issue and it's not a white issue. It's a community issue. Therefore, the response from the community should not be segregated.

African Americans, Gays and Lesbians, filmmakers, and Angelino's should all take issue with this. A clear, concise, and swift message of disapproval needs to be sent to Muhammad and the Nation of Islam regarding this issue.

Simply put, we will tolerate this, we do not support this, and we don't want this to happen again.

Our newly elected mayor should take issue with this incident, as he has proclaimed that the City of Los Angeles is for all persons.

Congresswoman Diane Watson should take issue with this as she has publicly stated her support for Black Hollywood and the production of films in our community. Governor Schwarzenegger who consistently lobbies for films to be shot in California, on this issue should be outraged.

You should be outraged.t



At 27, Jasmyne Cannick is a board member of the National Black Justice Coalition, the nation's only Black Gay civil rights group and a member of the National Association of Black Journalists. Cannick a Los Angeles native is a communications strategist who is pursuing her long-term interest in public policy and journalism. She can be reached via her website at www.jasmynecannick.com.
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