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BALTIMORE SUN REVIEW

August 31, 2007

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New film gets men thinking, talking

Gregory Kane

August 29, 2007

The clock was pushing 10:40 last Saturday morning when the credits rolled in one of the movie houses at the Charles Theatre. Most in the group of about 50 black men and boys — and one black woman — were on their feet cheering and applauding as the film ended.

Within minutes, those same men were standing around the movie house discussing the film, debating its more controversial points and perhaps asking whether a documentary that features quotes from mainly black conservatives has any merit.

“You see what happens after this film?” Janks Morton told me after I asked him what was the typical reaction to his new film, What Black Men Think. “Black men talking to each other, challenging each other.”

So what, exactly, is Morton’s documentary about?

The wisecracker in me wants to respond “about 90 minutes long.” But What Black Men Think is about so much, much more than that. What Morton did was get commentary from ordinary black folks and then go after black pundits we don’t hear from too often, indeed, the very ones typical black leaders — think liberal Democrats here — claim neither represent black Americans nor have the interest of black Americans at heart.

Author Shelby Steele appears in the film, as does former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who’s no relation to Shelby. Actor and syndicated columnist Joseph C. Phillips gives commentary, as do authors John McWhorter and Earl Ofari Hutchison. Columnist and radio talk-show host Armstrong Williams appears, as do noted black conservatives Mychal Massie of Project 21 and Jesse Lee Peterson.

Commentators not as conservative who appear in Morton’s film are famed psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint of Harvard University and Juan Williams, author and contributor to National Public Radio. And Hutchison is hardly a black conservative: He’s taken up the cause of gay rights and rights for immigrants, legal and illegal. Hutchison’s hard to pigeonhole with one political viewpoint, which is what makes him a joy to both listen to and read.

Koli Tengella, a Baltimore teacher and actor, asked Morton during a question-and-answer session if the preponderance of black conservative voices would make his film less credible with some black viewers.

“Throughout our history,” Morton answered, “we have always had two voices. Sometimes during the fray, we miss their [black conservatives’] voices. We focus on the phrases ‘Uncle Tom,’ ‘sellout.’ But what is their ultimate message? The advancement of a people.”

Morton’s ultimate message in What Black Men Think is that blacks rely way too much on government to solve their problems; that the permissiveness advocated by baby boomers in the 1960s laid the groundwork for so many black households without fathers; and that there is a widespread misconception, even among black people, about who black men really are.

To buttress his point, Morton — if his first and last name seem familiar, it’s because he is indeed the son of Janks Morton, who was Sugar Ray Leonard’s trainer — devotes a segment of his film to asking a string of black people if there are more black men in jail or in college.

In every case, the answer was “jail.” The most emphatic answers came from groups of black students who looked as though they were in high school or middle school. They shouted “JAIL!” with an enthusiasm that seemed almost chilling.

Morton used Department of Justice and Department of Education figures to show that the number of black men incarcerated in prison or jail is about 802,000 and the number in college is 864,000. For the age group of 18 to 24, Morton said Department of Justice and Department of Education figures show there are four times more black men in college than in jail or prison.

After debunking what he called the “myth” of there being more black men in prison than in college — it’s actually an outright lie — Morton pointed the finger at what he considers the two groups most responsible for perpetuating it: the Justice Policy Institute, which was the first organization to make the claim, and the NAACP, which praised the JPI report.

The JPI is a predominantly white, liberal group dedicated to helping black folks. My usual reaction to groups like the JPI is: “God help us; they want to help us.”

As for why the NAACP would want to take part in this fraud, I’ll just say its leaders might want to change what the organization’s initials stand for from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to the National Association for the Advancement of Cool Pimps.

Morton addresses other controversial issues in his film: abortion, black-white marriages, black male-female relationships and black men on the “down low.” His take on abortion is sure to get his liver sliced out — figuratively, of course — by pro-choice forces.

“Although some of the opinions may not be popular among the ‘elite,’ upper-middle-class African-American community,” Tengella said, “they need to be heard. And critical thinking for African-Americans is critical as we move into the future. The status quo is no longer acceptable.”

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