Friday, March 10, 2006

Stanley Crouch On The Great Gordon Parks.

Mr. Parks, you'll be missed

Within three days after a minstrel show interrupted the Academy Awards and went unnoticed, Gordon Parks died. Three 6 Mafia's elegy to the difficulty of living off of women, "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp," was awarded the Oscar for Best Song before a predominantly white audience of wealthy media types who work in front of and behind the camera.

Gordon Parks was 93 when he died and had made a career for himself that was, at almost every step, a repudiation of the minstrel imagery that had burdened black Americans since the middle of the 19th century, composed equally of contempt and low expectations. The last of 15 children born into poverty in Kansas, Parks, a high school dropout, had made himself into a highly sophisticated man - a professional photographer, a writer, a composer and a film director.

Parks attributed his drive and the variety of ways in which he developed his talent to the curiosity, discipline and religious faith that had been instilled by his family, especially his mother. Mrs. Parks was obviously one of those legendary American women who teaches her children how to build the stamina necessary for long and difficult runs through the briar patch of life.

It was always the goal of Gordon Parks to disprove stereotypes by countering them with excellence. As a young and handsome man with shiny black hair and a pipe or as an old master with a shock of white wool covering his head and a huge walrus mustache, Parks was always the image of sophistication and seriousness.

Born in 1912, Parks had lived through the Depression and World War II, and was the first Negro photographer for Life magazine. He also shot for Vogue when the black revolt began against segregation. The "Negro Revolution," as it was called, brought light and darkness.
The light came with the rejection of stereotypes and a more open area of social possibility. For instance, Parks wrote "The Learning Tree" in 1963 and was approached for the film rights six years later. Ever shrewd, Parks made a deal in which he became the first black director hired by a major studio. The darkness was the minstrel reiteration that appeared with a vengeance as blaxploitation films following Parks' own "Shaft."

That Gordon Parks had become an answer to all stereotypes and low expectations by mastering the English language, the camera and film technique, and by deporting himself with absolute elegance and taste, must have made him an anachronism to those who believe that buffoons like Three 6 Mafia represent anything other than the descent of black popular music into blaxploitation with a backbeat.

Gordon Parks was not made in a factory that manufactures stupidity and the hatred of women projected by puppets of exaggeration who wear diamonds in their teeth. He made himself, with all of the discipline necessary, which is why even Malcolm X recognized his integrity. Parks also was one of the founders of Essence. Gordon Parks never forgot the honor of women like his mother and his sisters. That is why he would have kept the heat on, which is one of the many reasons why we miss him.


Anonymous Bob said...

Let Crouch keep writing about Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker, and stop boring younger folks with tired polemics on rap.

2:38 AM  

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