I did a video segment on Hollywood, the Oscars and diversity for the Wall Street Journal. Here’s the video.
Here’s the interview with “The Martian” director Ridley Scott that I did for the Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Cafe. The movie was No.1 at the box office this weekend.
Here’s what Scott had to say about his planned sequels to “Alien” and “Blade Runner”…
For more, please visit the WSJ Cafe and follow me @CJFarley on Twitter.
I haven’t seen the movie, and probably never will.
You see, I am Chris Farley.
Chris Farley–the subject of the new documentary–is white, fat and dead.
Chris Farley–the author of this essay–is black, runs a couple miles a day to avoid obesity, and is very much alive.
This Chris Farley wants his name back.
In the age of social media, names matter. Establishing an identity before someone else grabs it is important. @KanyeWest is a brand name. @KanyeWest73 is just jumping on the bandwagon. You know that line from the theme song of the sitcom “Cheers”? “You want to go where everybody knows your name”? The web is the opposite of “Cheers”–nobody knows anybody’s name, not for certain. Nobody knows if the person they’re communicating with is really who they say they are, or if they really know what they’re talking about. When you have a name that people recognize and respect and can verify, it elevates you above all the folks who are Tweeting and Instagramming and Facebooking, because it gives your opinions some credibility.
As a journalist, novelist and film producer I’ve spent a lot of time building up my name–only to see it taken away by someone I never met.
I knew I was going to have trouble with the other Chris Farley the first time I went to meet Chris Rock back in the early 1990s. Both of them were serving as cast members at “Saturday Night Live,” and I was working across the street at Time magazine and had to see Rock for work. The security guard at the desk downstairs at 30 Rock didn’t believe me when I gave him my name and things quickly devolved into a “Who’s on First” routine. “You’re not Chris Farley,” the guard declared to me.
Not long after that, I accidentally got a script in the mail for a big-screen version of the “SNL” sketch “Coneheads.” Someone had been trying to send it to the other Chris Farley and it wound up at my apartment instead. The script was terrible, so I figured I was doing the other Farley a favor by not passing it on. Not that I had his address. He was already so famous, it was unlisted.
But when the other Chris Farley died of drug overdose in 1997 at the age of 33 part of me died too. The jokes I used to get from office receptionists and switchboard operators and reservation takers at restaurants–”You don’t look like Chris Farley!” “Isn’t Chris Farley white?” “Isn’t Chris Farley dead?”–began to fade away with his memory.
You know what? Maybe I will see “I Am Chris Farley” after all. I used to feel threatened by the other Chris Farley. We all have the feeling that no matter how hard we’re working, we’re not doing as much as we could with our lives. When somebody who shares our names becomes more famous, it feels like proof that we’ve failed do as much we could have with what we were given. If someone with the same name managed to make it big, what’s my excuse?
The other Chris Farley has been dead for almost 20 years now, and maybe, with this new movie, it’s time to let go of this weird competitive feeling I’ve always had with him, and to be thankful for the things that have gone right in my life. If I had shared a name with another celebrity comedian, one who was a little less white and a little more alive, things might have been even more confusing.
I’m sure glad my name is Chris Farley and not Chris Rock.
UFC fighter Ronda Rousey has a surprisingly big part in the new “Entourage” movie that just came out. Here’s what she told me in a recent interview I had with her along with sportswriter Jason Gay at the WSJ Cafe, an arts and culture showcase that I run at the Wall Street Journal.
Check out my new fantasy novel for kids, “Game World.” I’ll be reading from the book on Sat., June 6, around 1:30pm at BookCourt in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn (163 Court St.). Hope you can make it!
It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and “American Sniper” is topping “Selma” to be the No.1 movie in America. Yes, there’s irony there, but it’s also a good time to talk a bit about pop culture and the philosophy of nonviolence.
Gawker has a great article reprinting a long 1965 interview King once gave to Playboy and Alex Haley (who would go on to write “Roots” and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”). King’s comments on music leaped out at me. I’m gearing up to read from my novel “Game World” at various schools for African American history month, so King’s words about the power of culture have fresh resonance.
“In a sense, songs are the soul of a movement,” King says in the article. He adds “Since slavery, the Negro has sung throughout his struggle in America. Steal Away and Go Down, Moses were the songs of faith and inspiration which were sung on the plantations. For the same reasons the slaves sang, Negroes today sing freedom songs, for we, too, are in bondage. We sing out our determination that ‘We shall overcome, black and white together, we shall overcome someday.'”
“Selma,” which tells the story of King and the 1965 march he led from Selma to Montgomery, was mostly shut out at this year’s Oscar nominations. All twenty of this year’s Oscar acting nominees are white, and there are no women nominated for writing or directing (“Selma” director Ava DuVernay, who had been widely expected to become the first African-American woman to be in the running for best director, was shut out). “Selma” notched just two Oscar nominations, one for best picture–and another for best song.
This weekend, “American Sniper” pulled in an estimated $89.5 million, while “Selma” took in $8.8 million according to the tracking website Box Office Mojo. Perhaps the best way for people to celebrate the rest of MLK day would be to actually go see “Selma.”
Here I am talking about the “Selma” snub on MSNBC:
I read in the New York Times that New York City police, in what some reports are calling an apparent work stoppage, have sharply cut down on their actions on the street, with parking and traffic tickets dropping more than 90 percent. This weekend, I went with my 12-year-old son to see “Selma” at the Magic Johnson theater on 125th street. I came out of the theater to a $35 traffic ticket.
The movie was worth the price of all the tickets I had to pay. In recent months, there has been a wide range of films in theaters with African-American themes–“Selma,” “Belle,” “Top Five,” and “Beyond the Lights” among them. None of the films has been a blockbuster at the box office, but “Belle” and “Selma” both have a shot at revenue-boosting Oscar nominations.
Several friends of mine have complained that some of the humor in “Top Five” is too crude for their tastes, but for the most part all of these films are the kinds of offerings that audiences, particularly moviegoers of color, have been hungering for Hollywood to make.
James Baldwin, in his collection, “The Price of the Ticket,” once wrote that “It goes without saying, I believe, that if we understood ourselves better, we would damage ourselves less.”
I think my son understood a little more about his own history after seeing “Selma.”
Now it’s time for more people to go see these projects so that studios will be encouraged to make more.
Just be careful where you park.
Check out my new novel “Game World.”
In the 1989 sci-fi comedy “Back to the Future Part II,” Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) time-travels from 1985 to 2015 and finds that the future is filled cool stuff like hovering skateboards and flying cars.
Now, in real-life, 2015 has arrived but the flying cars and whatnot have not–and to some people it feels as if part of the future has slipped away as well.
It’s hard when a hoped-for future fails to materialize. The 1968 movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” featured Pan Am space flights to the moon for civilians. The real 2001 not only didn’t feature moon voyages for paying customers, it didn’t even feature Pan Am, which folded in 1991.
The truth is that the future is always there in front of us to be remade, reshaped, reimagined.
That’s part of the reason I launched this blog today, to have a platform to talk about the past, the present and the future of pop culture, and offer some perspective.
In many ways, the real 2015 features some things that are way better than the gizmos that McFly came across in the movie version.
Who needs a flying car when you’ve got the internet?
Sometimes the future you actually make can be better than the ones others imagined.
Check out my new novel “Game World.“
[Originally published in TIME magazine Monday, Nov. 27, 2000]
By Christopher John Farley
One person’s fantasy is another’s stereotype. Especially when that one person is running a Hollywood studio and the other is an African American sitting in the audience fuming. In real life Tiger Woods just wrapped up one of the greatest seasons in the history of golf, a season in which he won so often and by so much that he nearly picked up a couple of electoral votes in Florida. In The Legend of Bagger Vance, one of the more embarrassing movies in recent history, Will Smith plays a magical black caddie who helps Matt Damon win a golf tournament and the heart of Charlize Theron. In 1930s Georgia, no less. You’d think Smith would have used his powers to, oh, I don’t know, stop a lynching or two. Or maybe, at the very least, used them to bag Theron for himself. It’s a sad day when the PGA is showcasing minority role models that are more inspirational than Hollywood’s.
The movies have always had a problem with race. The first talking film, The Jazz Singer, was, of course, about a white guy in blackface. And don’t get me started on Driving Miss Daisy, or the fact that the black guy who played the fourth Ghostbuster didn’t get to do much of anything. But recently, Hollywood has been working especially hard to establish two onscreen stereotypes. The first is the Magical African-American Friend. Along with Bagger Vance, MAAFs appear in such films as What Dreams May Come (1998), the upcoming Family Man (co-starring Don Cheadle) and last year’s prison drama The Green Mile. In that film, Michael Clarke Duncan plays a superstrong, superdumb MAAF on death row who cures one of his jailers (Tom Hanks) of a urinary-tract infection by laying a magical hand on his crotch. It’s probably the only time Duncan will make it to third base on the big screen.
Which brings us to another Hollywood favorite, the Bigot with a Heart of Gold. In Remember the Titans (a formulaic film that soars on the strength of its performances) Will Patton plays a white football coach who at first resists integration, and then befriends head coach Denzel Washington. And in Men of Honor (another formulaic film enjoyable for its performances) Robert De Niro plays a BHG who at first tries to run Cuba Gooding Jr. out of the Navy diver program, and then champions his cause. Gooding’s character is a real person. De Niro’s is a fictional composite.
MAAFs exist because most Hollywood screenwriters don’t know much about black people other than what they hear on records by white hip-hop star Eminem. So instead of getting life histories or love interests, black characters get magical powers. It doesn’t even make financial sense. Smith saved the world in Men in Black and Independence Day, and those movies were huge hits; he carries Damon’s clubs in Bagger Vance, and that movie, so far, has been a box-office flop. Smith is a bigger star than Damon, and yet it’s Damon who wins the tournament and gets the girl, and it’s Smith who needs to get a new agent. BHGs, on the other hand, exist to soften the punch of racially charged movies, to embody the notion that not all racists are bad people. They offer the possibility of grace to all the bigots in the audience. That last group might include a few movie executives.
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