Wednesday, May 04, 2005
Vanessa Williams, part 2
A bunch of folks from Cal State Los Angeles at the Vanessa Williams lecture. That's Vanessa in the middle of Melrose Place and Soul Food - the Showtime Series - fame. That's me on the far left. Always jumping in someone's picture. Daria, Johnny, Que, and company.
Anyway, let me just say that Vanessa Williams is so down-to-earth, friendly, sista-girl honest, and socially conscious. Where do I begin with what she talked about and how she moved the crowd.
First, she opened up by reading entries from a new chapbook she's written and published. She read a short story about her life growing up in Brooklyn, specifically about a teenage crush on the Puerto Rican bodega boy, Julio. It was steamy hot story. Then, Vanessa read another story about a love triangle involving two women and a man. This story became the basis for a short film she wrote and directed for Showtime called Dense. (Funny remark of the night was when she said all those old relationship dramas make for good storylines for projects you're wanting to work on... of course fictionalized.)
Dense screened at many Pan African film fests and other independent film fests this winter and spring. It also aired on Showtime. Very good film -- the dialogue, the cinematography, the acting. Vanessa did a great job on the film, and this was the basis for the question and answers at the end.
Vanessa dished on everything: the Melrose Place season (a great experience, fun cast... then when the format changed to more of a soap, the staff couldn't exactly see Rhonda sleeping with Jake... thanks for your services!); moving to L.A. (got the Melrose gig within a year of moving to town... probably thanks to the buzz on her New Jack City role); black-and-brown dramas (there is definitely a demand and a future in these projects, thanks to the Soul Food series).
One of the defining moments of the night was when Vanessa talked about ancestry, genes, and the recent developments in DNA testing that can help black people trace their roots. Prior to this, the main way to explore geneology was through the oral tradition, story telling, or maybe through newspapers and public records. This winter, Vanessa participated in a DNA-ancestry search and was able to trace her roots through her maternal side to the African country of Cameroon. (You can research how to do this by checking out any of these sites: African Ancestry, or African Ancestry Inc.)
Vanessa and her husband Andre (a Detroit native like me) are a great creative team. Overall, a good night. A good program. Thanks Cross Cultural Centers at Cal State L.A. (And thanks Vanessa for the encouragement with the novel! Thanks for wanting to read about "my mess"!)