Discovering Dorothy Newton

Dorothy Newton, Jamaica, 1950-something

I mentioned in an earlier Cinemulatto post that I recently watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the first time. This was a movie my mother adored, if it wasn’t her all-out favorite. What I imagined would be an overly cheesy romantic comedy turned out to be something quite different. I immediately transferred Holly Golightly’s persona onto my mother: a young, single, female socialite, a hopeless and hip romantic, someone enamored of “the good life” and content to surround herself with friends spouting witty one-liners about yaks.

Whether perceived, concocted, or actual, the image was dissonant with the one I’d developed over the course of 28 years, before my mother’s passing from kidney failure in 1997. Dorothy Breaux was schizophrenic. Her hands had sunken into themselves, crippled from years of rheumatoid arthritis. She’d experienced three different strokes, causing the right side of her face to be slightly deformed and discolored. She was diabetic. Had high blood pressure. Was depressive. Thought the refrigerator talked to her. Was dependent on medication. Tried on a couple occasions to take my life, once with a butter knife, the other by strangulation.

This was different still from the pictures. Ones from the 40s and 50s in Jamaica, before Newton became Breaux—Dorothy Newton on a motorcycle, Dorothy Newton in a flowing, polka dot dress (the photo inscribed with “Jamaica’s Latin Quarter” on the back), Dorothy Newton either in a wide smile or a “tough girl” look. Could there be some actual connection between the woman in these pictures and the high life of a carefree, 1950s, New York ingénue?

During her moments of lucidity, my mother and I discussed many diverse and personal subjects—her sex life with my father (or lack thereof), her relationship with her own mother (similar to the caretaker one I had with mine), an affair she stopped in her late 20s, her father’s death and how she could see a swollen heart through his skin before his passing. Still, I never got a full sense of who my mother was during the years before she came to the United States, from her birth in 1929 to landing in Los Angeles in March of 1962. I know she gave me a love of music and dance. She kept a notebook of all the movies she watched as a young woman, which I found after her death. I have these and other snippets of a life.

I realized I knew so little about my mother. Under the influence of Audrey Hepburn, fresh off the pages of Danzy Senna’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night?and recently inspired by Fanshen Cox’s performance piece on her relationship with her father, I developed a heightened curiosity and a need to know more. Now, I’m on a quest.

MULATTO OF THE MONTH: DOROTHY BREAUX

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, on September 7th, 1929, Dorothy Theresa Newton was one of five children and one of three girls. She was born at home to Mary, who by all accounts was white. (In pictures, Mary appears fair-skinned but her race is dubious.) Dorothy’s father, who was black, took her to get her first portrait taken when she was 12, where she held a hand-made purse in a neighborhood photo studio. Her younger brother, Leo, once ripped the head off one of her dolls. Other than this girlhood trauma, Dorothy had a great life in Jamaica and was admired by friends, family, and young men. She was a bona fide life of the party. She knew how to foxtrot and jitterbug. She worked as a seamstress in a department store. She smoked, drank, and made merry.

Traveling to Los Angeles in March 1962—with the promise of Hollywood and an introduction to a handsome young man—caused a distinct change in Dorothy. She was married to Sylvester Breaux on September 8th of that year. Twelve years her senior, he was later blamed for Dorothy’s transformation from confident, independent young woman to dependent, stay-at-home, mentally ill mom. There is evidence that Dorothy exhibited signs of schizophrenia the year she left Jamaica. Still, many thought Sylvester’s erratic, angry, controlling behavior exacerbated the problem and fed Dorothy’s predisposition toward mental illness.

We celebrate Dorothy this month, as we continue to excavate her life before sickness.

A Mulatto Sundance Film Festival Travelogue

Sundance 2013I was thrilled to attend this year’s Sundance not only because I hadn’t been, as a moviegoer, since 2008, but because this time my name was actually attached to a film. In this year of our lord, AD 2013, I had the honor/privilege of being one of a group of cinematographers on 99% – The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film.

What better excuse to seek out mulatto conversation at Sundance?

My initial goal was to watch as many films as possible. I ended up seeing three—the 99% Film being one of them, another being a Slamdance movie. I otherwise spent this year’s Sundance Film Festival eating, networking, partying, and sleeping, pretty much in that order. How exactly does a wandering mulatto spend her time in Park City?

Four Mulatto Days at Sundance

Day One: Saturday, 1/19/13
Stepping into the freezing Salt Lake City air from baggage claim was brutal but I adjusted. Shuttle driver wore a face mask and said the city was, that day, experiencing the worst smog on the planet. Convinced myself this was a good sign. After arriving and unloading meager travel items (suitcase, small bag) in a shared Deer Valley condo, headed to Main Street for sushi. Met a composer, John Burrows, and a documentary filmmaker, Dori Cohen. All’s well for the traveling Mulatto.

After dinner, hung out with my pal Olen Holm (who makes an appearance, along with his naked butt, in Kill Your Darlings) and his friend Daniel at Java Cow, went to a party at Blackhouse, and stalked Roberta Munroe to chat about my latest script. She reviewed it recently. I owe her a rewrite. Although no mulatto-related conversation, had my first “notable” sighting: Omar from The Wire. Think he’ll always be known as Omar? (Sundance is, of course, filled with “stars”, mostly insignificant to me, like Pauly Shore.)

Slept in the condo living room on a cot. No heat. Colder than Siberia.

Day Two: Sunday, 1/20/13
Favorite day! Woke up early and saw, four inches away from me: a gas fireplace. Great. Figured out how it worked then went to the Queer Brunch at Grub Steak Restaurant. Had TWO mixed-folk exchanges: one with Sundance feature programmer Shari Frilot (Creole and Puerto Rican), the other with writer/director/producer Stephen Winter (Czech and Jamaican). Chatted with Stephen about his work on Tarnation. Received encouragement to do something similar with my family story. Re-introduced myself to Rose Troche, said hello to Des Buford, and the highlight: hanging with Olen and cinematographer Michelle Lawler, plus reconnecting with producer and Outfest Director of Individual Giving, Christopher Racster. Good times, great people! Briefly saw friend and Mother Country cohort Joe Stillwater, yet another halfie!

Stalked Roberta Munroe again, but missed each other (nature’s call—bathroom, food).

Went to lunch at Main Street Deli with Michelle and Fruitvale casting director Matthew Riutta before going home, cleaning up, and treating myself to dinner at Squatters Roadhouse Grill.

That night: the world premiere of 99% – The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film (recently picked up by Participant Media!). My reason for being here! Incredible. An amazing, important documentary, and standing in front of a Sundance crowd—despite my stuttering out 7 words—was unbelievable. Thanks to the directors for bringing up the crew. (I was the only mulatto in the lineup, from what I could discern.) Was approached by condo-mate Mark from Arte afterward, under whose door I managed to slip a screener of Mother Country before the end of my trip. After-gathering at Bistro 412. Slipped out on the early side.

Got back to the condo in a 5-minute, 20-buck cab ride, turned on the fireplace, found a large duvet, went to sleep.

Day Three: Monday, 1/21/13
Determined to purchase at least one Sundance ticket, stood in line for 45 minutes to get whatever movie was available for that evening. Got a ticket to O Muel’s Jiseul, which ended up winning the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic World Cinema. Lucky mulatto!

Made it to a moving and tearful inauguration breakfast at Blackhouse (or was it just fatigue?). Afterward sat at a table with Effie T. Brown for a comedy half hour.

Back at the Filmmaker Lodge, ran into Christopher Racster again. Chilled and chatted before attending the panel on genre filmmaking featuring Roger Corman, Ben Wheatley, Eduardo Sanchez, and Jeremy Lovering. Corman made his first film for 2,000 bucks and didn’t expect to make money from it. We are what we film.

Saw Best Friends Forever at Slamdance. Michelle’s cinematography was fantastic. As for the movie itself, no comment, except I liked it best when the actors weren’t talking.

Walked over to Egyptian Theatre to watch Jiseul. Subject: 60 peasants hide in a cave to escape persecution from the South Korean military. This film is haunting, expressionistic, disturbing, and beautiful. Just like mulattoes?

Last Sundance night: Blackhouse closing party. Danced with men and women who looked mixed but the mulatto conversation goal was no longer relevant (kinda). A perfect festival.

Day Four: Tuesday, 1/22/13
Spoke briefly with someone associated with American Promise on the airport shuttle, who I suspected of being mulatto so went ahead and asked a last-ditch question: “What’s your racial background?” She’s half Irish, half German, and “gets that all the time.” Flew home to family, warmth, and contentment. Fist raised in defiance, vowed to continue stalking Roberta Munroe.

5 Really Bad Instances of “Ethnic” Casting

A recent Cinemulatto Facebook discussion on Breakfast at Tiffany’s had me thinking about really, really bad instances of white people playing people of color in movies. Sure, we have half-forgiven relics such as Al Jolson in blackface, Luise Rainer winning an Oscar for her role as a Chinese farmer, or even Robert Downey, Jr. in Tropic Thunder. Gene Wilder is funny in Silver Streak and A Mighty Heart had decent acting. Plus, it’s long been a cinematic norm to have white people “stretching” to play non-white roles (or the occasional Filipino portraying someone like Richie Valens). History has kind of allowed us to pardon the simply misinformed choices of well-meaning casting directors.

Some casting decisions, however, were just really, really bad. Here are the most painful.

Not even close to black
  1. Anthony Hopkins – Coleman Silk in The Human Stain
    A Welsh man playing a black man passing as white. The younger version of Coleman Silk is played convincingly by Wentworth Miller. However, we couldn’t get beyond Hopkins’ British accent and the fact that not only does he not look remotely black, but he seems to have trouble sounding American. Was Tom Hanks busy?

    Why?
    Why?
  2. Mickey Rooney – Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
    Granted, Mickey Rooney didn’t mean to offend anybody. Still, this is just goofy. No longer funny. Bad. Truman Capote’s novella had Mr. Yunioshi in only a tiny role as Holly Golightly’s annoyed but smitten neighbor. No sign of false teeth, and he even had a hipster profession as a photographer. Where’s the spinoff?

    Gael García Bernal was a working actor in 2000
  3. Sean Penn – a Cuban peasant in Before Night Falls
    He appears in only one scene, and maybe someone wanted to add more A-list actor cred to Julian Schnabel’s sophomore film effort. I’m a big fan of Schnabel. I’m a small fan of the bad makeup job on Penn. I don’t get it—the cast is otherwise packed with Latino actors. As for A-list, wasn’t Johnny Depp enough, in two roles? Couldn’t he have played just one more tiny role as the peasant?

    Bad Comanche
  4. William Shatner – dual role as a white man and his Comanche brother in White Comanche
    Okay, the makers of this movie get points for featuring mixed-race brothers. They fight each other. Shatner whoops and hollers as an Indian brave. Guess which one smokes peyote? Shatner was at the top of his game with Star Trek, so maybe he thought he could do anything. Verdict: wrong.

    The stuff of nightmares
  5. Peter O’Toole – a Tibetan lama in Kim
    This is so bad, I don’t know where to start. Actually, I’ll start with the overwhelming sadness caused by knowing this is the man from Lawrence of Arabia. Please, avoid this made-for-TV movie from 1984 based on the Rudyard Kipling novel. The book: classic. Peter O’Toole as a Tibetan lama in a skull cap: horrible.

What are some of your least-favorite ethnic casting moments?

Ringing in the New Year with Lezley Saar

Happy New Year, everyone!

Cinemulatto had a few epiphanies during the last quarter of 2012 having to do with identity, history, family, and creativity, chief among them “discovering” a part of my mother, Dorothy Breaux, after finally watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s (her favorite movie). This and related topics will be covered in future Cinemulatto posts. We thought it fitting, however, to have our first post of 2013 focus primarily on art and the mother-daughter relationship, as seen through the aesthetic lens of artist Lezley Saar.

With a rich and diverse history that includes public radio, book cover design, photography, ink drawing, and other forms of visual expression, Lezley Saar’s work spans over 40 years. She’s collaborated with such authors as Ishmael Reed and her work has been featured in numerous art forums. Cinemulatto asked her a few questions about her most recent installation and the state of the Mulatto Nation.

Lezley Saar
Lezley Saar

You recently had an exhibition, Madwoman in the Attic, at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery in Los Angeles. How did this project come about?

My exhibition was actually inspired by my daughter, Sola. She did her thesis at Berkeley on a comparison of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story, The Yellow Wallpaper, and Lars von Trier’s film, Antichrist. So I decided to do portraits of insane heroines from Gothic 19th century novels. The installation portion of my show, “Madness and the Gaze,” explores the phantoms of 19th century “feminine afflictions” such as melancholia and hysteria.

What are some movies you’ve seen recently and how did they affect you?

I recently saw Lars von Trier’s film, The Five Obstructions. Apologies for mentioning him again, but this is a great film where von Trier demands that Jørgen Leth remake his classic film, The Perfect Human, five times, while obeying these ridiculous criteria and restrictions.  It helped me with my approach to my work by incorporating certain “obstacles” to encourage new ideas.

What are some subjects or areas you feel you have yet to explore?

My next show will deal with Mysticism and the Occult mixed with Afrofuturism of the 1970s. I am very interested in Madame Blavatsky and Sun Ra from an historic sense as well as the future. I feel the Mulatto Nation should explore new galaxies.

What would you include in an address on the State of the Mulatto Nation?

You know, it’s interesting how with a Mulatto president, how little the subject of mixed race is discussed. But of course it’s amazing right? I believe the Mulatto Nation has to propel itself into the future by embracing duality, contradiction, hybridism, and the ether. And remember, “Mulattos are always half right!”

How is Baby Halfie Brown Head?

Just fine.

MULATTO OF THE MONTH: BOB MARLEY

Dreadlock Mulatto Rasta

In anticipation of future blog posts concerning Dorothy Breaux (born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1929), we thought we’d go back in time to trash a few silly Jamaican stereotypes and perhaps create new ones. These explorations will be devoid of the words “mon” and “Irie”.

Tuff Gong is reggae’s best-selling artist and Jamaica’s most famous son. People the world over are familiar with his songs of liberation and struggle, and yet his dreadlocked image is a far cry from the social structure my mother experienced from 1929 through her arrival in the U.S. in 1962. In other words, my mom and her sisters didn’t like people like Bob Marley and weren’t all about ganja and skank (for better or worse). Regardless, this month we honor the most acclaimed icon of his hurricane-prone, balmy island country.

One love!

An Interview with David Breaux

David Breaux
David Breaux, The Compassion Guy

Another year over (almost). Despite resolutions that will likely fail, strife, violence, uncertainty, indecision, and year-end malaise, we’re leaving 2012 on a positive note.

He’s known as “The Compassion Guy” in Davis, California, David Breaux to many, and brother to me. Here are thoughts from someone who puts his ideals of empathy and kindness into daily practice, and inspires others to consider how they might do the same.

Cinemulatto wishes you all the best as we enter 2013.

What is Compassion Corner?

On June 3rd, 2009, I started asking people to share their written concept of the word compassion in a notebook. I stand at the corner of 3rd and C in Davis every day whenever the weather and my health provide the opportunity. It’s become know as “the corner” and now I’m working with a few other people in creating an Earthbench, a monument to compassion, that will help designate the space as an official Compassion Corner.

How did you end up on the corner?

After a year and a half of introspection, I recognized who I am and decided what I needed to do. I started exploring my own concept of compassion. I then went out to others to try and come up with a collective definition and found the act itself to be fulfilling in many ways. I then decided to make it a lifelong endeavor to help bring awareness to compassion.

How have you changed since starting the project?

I’m more aware of people, how they suffer, and how their suffering manifests in various mannerisms, mindsets, habits, and behaviors. I’m more aware of my place in the universe and how mindfulness contributes to the well-being of myself and others. I practice gratitude more often than before and say thank you to all that takes place in every moment. I now experience compassion constantly rather than in fleeting snippets.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

I am challenged by when and how to be compassionate to those who approach me at the corner, if needed. At the moment I am deciding whether I am actually hindering or helping individuals who come up and complain over a long period of months or years. I know that listening is a main part of compassion and I question whether listening without action, over time, remains compassion. I’m still contemplating this.

How does your race play into what you’re doing?

I don’t think of my race while doing what I do. I simply ask people to share their written concept of compassion. I believe what I do is for all people regardless of racial background, gender differences, age, or any other perceived difference between peoples. In the end, we all represent a portion of a common humanity and our interactions stem from the heart rather than the skin.

With compassion,
David H. Breaux

Season’s Greetings!

The end-of-year shopping sprees are officially among, above, and around us. It’s hard enough shopping for the ethnically unambiguous. The real challenge is finding the perfect gift for your mulatto friends. Suffer no more.

10 Holiday Gift Ideas for Your Mulatto Pal(s)

  1. Gift cards for hair product. Don’t get them the actual product, since mulatto hair is egregiously unruly and unpredictable. No Frizz has a half-life of about two months, and Frizz Ease is effective for a week. Present your pal with a gift card lifesaver, which will come in handy in the event of an f’ed-up, fuzz-infested water landing.
  2. A taser. This is for those off-white friends who insist on living in “real” neighborhoods but who think someone could grab their gun.
  3. Dental floss. Mulattoes have great teeth. Help keep it that way.
  4. A racially relevant DVD. The DVD shelf isn’t just brunch conversation material anymore. For mulattoes, the right DVDs are a sure sign of sociopolitical consciousness. Dig deep and choose something like The Black Power Mixtape or The Search for Robert Johnson.
  5. Boojie grab bag. If you can afford it this year, this includes such things as a spa treatment, tea service, or sushi. Your mulatto friend will be so impressed.
  6. Custom t-shirt: “I’m a Mulatto”. Think how grateful they’ll be to have a quick answer to the question, “What are you?” Pick a fun color to match their skin tone.
  7. A bullhorn. People often forget they’re in mulatto company. This is a great way of letting your pal say “I’m here.”
  8. SPF 1 suntan lotion. Because mulattoes can burn.
  9. Fine literature or music. Mulattoes tend to be well-read music appreciators. This keep-on-giving gift includes not only “ethnic” novels and music, but also subscriptions to The New Yorker or Harper’s. Or, for the lower-class (read: hipster) mulatto: dig up obscure but relevant artists like Black Merda.
  10. Sporting goods. Your active mulatto will appreciate such gifts as a bike helmet, running gear, or a badminton racket. A fit mulatto is a happy mulatto!
MULATTO OF THE MONTH: SOLEDAD O’BRIEN
Soledad O'Brien
Soledad!

We almost made Ms. O’Brien the February Mulatto of the Month in honor of Valentine’s Day, since we’re in love with her! When she’s not applying the verbal beat-down to nasty Tea Party fact shunners, she’s using her intellectual prowess to bitch-slap the Rude American White Male Public Figure. Our deepest awe and respect goes to our Afro-Cuban/Australian heroine. Keep throwin’ down for us, Soledad. You’re a true gift!

Happy Thanksgiving from Cinemulatto!

It’s been the case for some time that mulattoes are higher up the social ladder than their black counterparts. Yes, the light-skinneded ones have it all. Well, not all: we’re not as statistically impressive as white people. They still have things like beach chalets and car elevators. Regardless, mulattoes can flaunt some serious, research-based bragging rights. Can’t we?

Yes we can! We’re rich!

In honor of our hallowed place in the Land of the Privileged and in celebration of this year’s Thanksgiving, we won’t settle for showing appreciation for pedestrian things like family, friends, or life. We’re better than that. We’ve earned our place in the upwardly mobile American status quo, and we can be thankful accordingly. In fact, this year, so can you.

15 First World Things To Be Thankful For

  1. Tip calculators.
  2. Cacao has not only made it into pop culture—cacao nibs can be purchased in bulk.
  3. If you ever default on a U-Haul payment, your mid-century modern lamps will go to someone in need.
  4. Crib soother aquariums.
  5. Salvation Army will take anything, and you don’t have to tip the guy who sits there.
  6. Skinny ties never go out of style.
  7. Steroids aren’t just for adult sports teams anymore. Teenagers can use them, too.
  8. There are many online recipes for grilled cheese sandwiches.
  9. Busses will take you directly to work. (They’re called “shuttles” since “bus” isn’t First World enough.)
  10. Rear-vision cameras on cars can be used to make movies.
  11. A whole website is devoted to First World Problems, in meme format.
  12. Memes.
  13. Vegan dryer sheets.
  14. Food trucks for dogs.
  15. Happiness, liberty, and good health. Because they still exist in America.

What are you thankful for?

Welcome to CINEMULATTO

What the hell is a Cinemulatto?

I’m a filmmaker. I’m mixed race (Jamaican mom, Cajun dad). I like the word “mulatto” not only because it sounds like “gelato,” but because it’s exotic and sexy, not to mention vaguely Italian. The Italians brought us great movies.

I love movies and books. I have a penchant for music from the 60s (mod, freakbeat, psychedelia) but I’m game for everything from hip hop to shoegaze to anything I listened to as a kid—even John Denver.

I’m more often a philanthropist than a misanthrope.

All of the above will give you a semi-idea not only of what constitutes a “Cinemulatto”, but what you can expect from this blog. Feel free to plagiarize any of the above if you need a ready-made online dating profile.

In true mixed-race fashion, this blog will be bi-weekly. We’ll have guests. Sometimes there’ll be video.

I’m late in the game entering the blogosphere but get this—late bloomers live longer. It’s true and fact-checked. They also have higher salaries, experience more frequent bouts of inner peace, and have vibrant, acrobatic sex lives. They have softer skin, require less hair product, and look fashionable with any shoe.

Come for the company, stay for the food.  And now I present to you….

MULATTO OF THE MONTH: BARACK OBAMA

Barack Obama
My Mulatto President

I’m so relieved/ecstatic/mind-blown that this man is still president. I was having nightmares and panic attacks about Mitt Romney. The worst—Mitt comes to take away my Big Fat Gay Family. But he’s not president, nor is he Mulatto of the Month.

Despite drone attacks, increased oil production, and other very non-progressive ills, history will no doubt mark Obama as extraordinary not only for being the first African-American president (which we’ll give him for the significance, but mulattoes can be smug about the truth), but for many groundbreaking acts that are so vast in their magnitude, the public consciousness has yet to fully absorb:

  • Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
  • Taking out Osama Bin Laden
  • Passing a massive, landmark healthcare plan
  • “Coming out” in support of gay marriage
  • Ending the war in Iraq
  • Saving international American face
  • Signing legislation for equal pay for women and against hate crimes
  • Winning true victories for the American people, not just “things he did”
  • Having a decent, soulful singing voice

Obamalatto. Our president.