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"American Celebrity "

  rec 4-20-05 

1) 3:26 Short essay MP3

2) 4:30 long essay MP3

[Col. Writ. 4/20/05] Copyright 2005 Mumia Abu-Jamal

"A celebrity is one who is known to many persons he is glad
he doesn't know." -- H.L. Menckin, American journalist & author (1880-1956)

To say that Americans are mesmerized by the aura of celebrity is an understatement.

There is an American celebrity industry (or should I say industr*ies*), which fuels the sales of magazines, newspapers, books and audio presentations.

It is the age-old American fascination with wealth and fame.

Sometimes, it's little more than a harmless diversion, a way for people to fantasize about lives they wish they could live. At other times, however, it is the selling of a new American class, which uses its social status and placement, to support the status quo.

Sometimes, celebrity is but another commodity which is used, not just to make money, but to move people’s minds away from matters that are not flattering to the Empire.

Recently, prisoners here had the opportunity to view the recent films, "Ray", and "Hotel Rwanda."

One was an unvarnished blockbuster, which garnered both critical acclaim and box-office success, showing the rare convergence of elite and popular tastes. That, of course, was the moving biopic on the brilliant musician, the late Ray Charles, played by the multi-talented comedian, actor and musician, Jamie Foxx. Foxx made his bones in wild, crazy comedy, as a starring player of the hit TV show, "In Living Color."

In his heart-rending performance as Ray Charles, Foxx deftly made the challenging transition from comic to dramatic actor, using his genius for mimicry as well as his talent for music.

The other was also heart-rending in its portrayal of the horrific genocide in Rwanda, as shown through the lives of one Rwandan family.

Actor Don Cheadle's portrayal of a Rwandan hotelier, Paul Rusesabagina, and his attempts to save both Tutsis and Hutus from the genocidal ethnic wars of the 1990s, is, quite simply, a masterpiece.

That Foxx received the Oscar, and Cheadle did not, is less a tribute to either of these actor's talents, and more a reflection of America’s fascination with celebrity.

This is not a slap at Foxx’s masterful portrayal of a Black American icon (although, if I were truly a critic, I would have named Regina King as best supporting actress in the flick). But, Ray Charles, while undoubtedly a genius in the arts, cannot , even with his wonderful gifts of rhythm and blues, cannot, outweigh the genocide of one million men, women and children, in a matter of weeks in Africa.

Kenyan writer, human rights activist and member of parliament, Koigi wa Wamwere, in his book, *Negative Ethnicity: From Bias to Genocide* (New York: Seven Stories, 2003), wrote tellingly, of why African genocide was virtually ignored:

"Our Gikuyu people have a proverb, *kiriro kiri ituura gitingireka mundu akome -- You
do not sleep when there is wailing in the village. When the United States government
sent its army to drive out the military junta in Haiti in October, 1994, it was because
boatloads of refugees were daily landing on the U.S. coast in their flight from the
terror and brutality back home. For Americans, as soon as *their* problem was *our*
problem, the United States was forced to intervene. Because the wailing of African
victims of ethnic wars and genocide is so far removed from America, the U.S. will not
act because it has no sleep to lose by doing nothing." [35]

The story of the Rwandan genocide wasn’t sexy, it wasn’t 'hot' (as one U.S. celebrity is wont to say), but it was 'keepin' it real' about the worth, and worthlessness of white, and African life, today. Had that lesson penetrated into American celebrity culture, perhaps a social force could be mobilized to bring an end to genocide happening today, right now-- in the Darfur, Sudan.

Or perhaps we’ll just wait, for the movie.

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visit: southendpress.org

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Submitted by: Sis. Marpessa