Joshua Alston

Stories by Joshua Alston

  • Rattling His Chains

    There's no polite way to describe Craig Brewer's "Black Snake Moan," so let's get it over with. Samuel L. Jackson stars as Lazarus, an old black bluesman who tries to cure Rae (Christina Ricci) of nymphomania by tethering her to his radiator with a steel chain. Revolted? Intrigued? Amused? If you checked all of the above, Brewer would be delighted. His film "Hustle & Flow" got two Oscar nominations (and won for best song) in 2005, but it also kicked up a lot of criticism that the story of a black pimp didn't need to be told, especially by a white director."Moan" raises the stakes with both its reverse slave imagery and its disturbing depiction of sex addiction. "Having a white girl chained up at a black man's house, that definitely seems manipulative," says Carmen Van Kerckhove, president of the diversity-training firm New Demographic. Brewer understands how the film seems confrontational--that's the point. "Craig wanted this film to be provocative," says Jackson, "but it's a...
  • Fox Tries Funny

    Back when I lived in Atlanta, I spent my Sunday mornings with Ike Newkirk, host of "Open Line," one of the few liberal talk-radio shows on southern airwaves. Newkirk's format is simple: he opines on all things far-left (Diebold and Carlyle Group are among the frequently-used buzzwords), and callers either agree wholeheartedly or are treated to his wrath. While I didn't always agree with Newkirk's views, I always approved of his verbal pummeling. My favorite Newkirk exchange was with a caller who was fed up with the host's belly-aching over the outcome of the 2004 Presidential election:Caller: I'm sick and tired of hearing people talk about how Bush cheated. It doesn't matter now. We have to get past it, stop being sore losers and get behind our president.Newkirk: Sir, let me ask you something, did you vote?Caller: No, I didn't. I was busy moving.Newkirk: How long did it take you to move?Caller: About two weeks.Newkirk: Sir, you are an idiot.Caller: What? Why do we have to resort to...
  • Family: Sleeping With Dino

    Which sounds cooler: "pass the popcorn" or "pass the pterodactyl egg"? If your kids are begging you to take them to the hit family film "Night at the Museum," you can do them one better--an after-dark museum adventure of their own. Natural-history museums across the country offer sleepover events, which allow kids to be like the film's bumbling security guard, exploring exhibits armed with flashlights and their imaginations. The American Museum of Natural History in New York City has been so inundated with interest that its sleepovers are sold out until April. At its events, which are scheduled through June, kids camp out under the giant blue whale in the Hall of Ocean Life (ages 8-12, $79 per person; amnh.org ). Chicago's Field Museum offers its Dozin' With the Dinos event on Jan. 12, where participants will hear stories from night watchmen (ages 6-12, $47 per person; fieldmuseum.org ). Dinosaur enthusiasts will thrill at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County's year...
  • Tea: Red Alert on Aisle Six

    Choosing between black, white and green teas has always been a bit confusing--but now you'll be seeing red. Red tea, that is. The South African import is gaining popularity in the United States, thanks to new launches from Snapple and Honest Tea (which debuts its blend this spring). They both follow a hit Top Shelf Foods line from 2005. "It's exciting to see it gain broader acceptance," says Honest Tea CEO Seth Goldman. But while green tea prided itself on its antioxidant qualities--eventually appearing in toothpaste and shampoo--red tea's biggest selling point is its sweeter taste.The "green" party counters that red tea isn't even a real tea--it's brewed from fermented rooibos , an herb unrelated to the plant from which traditional teas originate. "Red tea has no relation to traditional tea other than that it looks like it," says Joe Simrany, president of the Tea Association of the USA. There's more. The Chinese sometimes refer to black tea as red tea, and when unfermented rooibos...
  • Stepping Out of Line?

    During the making of “Stomp the Yard,” the new movie set in the world of black fraternities and their traditional style of step-dancing, producer Will Packer made authenticity his top priority. “I was on the set every day screaming about how everything had to be real,” Packer says. “I went and put up all my old pictures, paddles and paraphernalia so that everybody could get a feel for this.” As a 13-year member of Alpha Phi Alpha, Packer wanted to share his passion for the country’s oldest African-American fraternity with the cast and crew by draping the set with the symbols of his experience. “I kept saying, it has to be right, because if it isn’t, people within these organizations will know.” Yet, of all the places Packer displayed Alpha Phi Alpha’s symbols during the production of “Stomp the Yard,” there’s one place from which the symbols are now conspicuously missing—the film’s final cut.Prior to the film’s release, Packer and business partner Rob Hardy, who pledged with Packer...
  • Sympathy for the Devil

    Dexter Morgan is a natural-born lady-killer. He's suave and sun-kissed, charming, gainfully employed, great with kids and sweet to his girlfriend. All things considered, Dexter would make a perfect standing lunch date, at least for anyone who considers a congenital desire to commit murder an acceptable character trait.That's the premise of Showtime's new dramatic series "Dexter." Michael C. Hall, formerly of "Six Feet Under," plays Dexter, a police forensics expert in Miami who, in his spare time, stalks and kills murderers who have somehow escaped justice. If it sounds dark, that's because it is. It's also, surprisingly enough, funny, sweet and intriguing, adding it to an ever-growing list of television shows whose central characters traverse moral boundaries that most viewers would never cross.The TV antihero trend began, to a large degree, with the kingpin of sympathetic bad guys, the emotionally troubled mobster Tony Soprano (chart). Pay-cable channels have long had the latitude...
  • Music Collectors Rare Recordings Go Digital

    Looking for the 1986 debut of reggae band African Head Charge on Apple's iTunes? You'd sooner find Microsoft Office. To that end, avid record collector Keith Abrahamsson has launched Anthology Recordings (anthologyrecordings.com), the first digital reissue label, as a marketplace for obscure sounds. Like labels such as The Numero Group, Anthology will sell handpicked rarities, but in MP3 format only, with tracks priced at 98 cents. A market exists; Oliver Wang runs Soul Sides, an audio blog for rare funk, and boasts 40,000 visitors per month. Numero cofounder Ken Shipley is not sure digital rarities will sell to collectors, who generally like tangible objects: "To succeed at this, there has to be some physical component," he says. But Anthology may be perfect for those who don't want to buy vinyl to get into the groove.
  • Lessons of Jonestown

    In November 1978, 913 people died in a shocking mass murder-suicide, and 28 years later, the Jonestown Massacre still remains the most chilling example of faith turned against the faithful. The group was led by the charismatic Jim Jones, who started his church, the Peoples Temple, in Indiana. He then moved the group to the San Francisco area, and ultimately to a desolate area of Guyana, where the tragedy played out as a concerned group showed up to investigate. Leo Ryan, a California congressman, led the delegation, and was killed by Jones’s guards when he attempted to fly defectors out of the site. Hours later, Jones instructed the group to drink cups of grape Flavor-Aid laced with cyanide.In a challenging new documentary that opens in limited release this week, “Jonestown: The Life and Death of the Peoples Temple,” acclaimed filmmaker Stanley Nelson reconstructs the Jonestown story. From its seemingly auspicious beginning to its horrific end, Norman uses the testimonial of 40...
  • The Man Behind the Muppet

    It’s probably silly to walk into Kevin Clash’s office expecting to see anything other than a grown-up’s office—a desk, a phone, a computer and an ergonomic chair. But because Clash has spent the last two decades providing the voice and personality of Elmo, “Sesame Street"'s wildly popular 3½-year-old red monster, there’s the expectation of something a bit more exotic, perhaps a red fur-covered chaise lounge. Instead, there are walls painted with a muted teal and an unspectacular office setup, though the huddle of eight Daytime Emmys (less the one he left in Baltimore) tends to draw attention to itself.Exploding expectations is so large a part of Clash’s life now that he could legitimately list it on his resume. Many people wouldn’t expect the person who voices Elmo to be 45 years old, or tall, or broad-shouldered, or male, or black, but Clash is all those things. Of course, he’s also profoundly successful and grateful that a certain red Muppet fell into his lap.Well, actually, it...
  • Newsmakers

    Hanks dons another creative hat to produce the animated feature "The Ant Bully." He spoke with Nicki Gostin.My son brought a book called "The Ant Bully" home from the school library, and as we were reading it I thought, "This would make a wonderful movie." So the next day I optioned it. He was 5 at the time, and now he's 10, so it's been a long process.No, but I was closely involved in the script. We had long discussions about whether the ants should be standing up.No, but I remember when we lived in Nevada there were two types of ants, black and red, and I remember putting them in a box and watching them fight.No! But I was there opening night with a bunch of roses, and I took photos of the audience from backstage.I don't think the producers would really go for that.Oh, yes, there is a cross- dressing role in my résumé.Yes, and I remember watching the original episode and thinking, "Man, that cheerleader is cute." So not only do I end up marrying the cheerleader but a leggy...
  • Newsmakers: Rufus Wainwright

    This week Rufus Wainwright re-creates Judy Garland's legendary 1961 Carnegie Hall concert--right in Carnegie Hall. He talked with NEWSWEEK's Nicki Gostin.Rufus Wainwright: About five years ago they reissued the album. At the time I was depressed about the state of the world. But whenever I put this record on, I was reminded of all that was great about American culture. I also realized I was singing along and hitting the notes. So I figured, why don't I just do this?Yeah. We'll do it in the barn or Carnegie Hall. Whichever one.Right, right. Needless to say, Judy Garland means a lot of things to a lot of people, her family included. I'm definitely mucking about in shark-infested waters. But I think Liza will come around.Yeah, we're working on a film, more or less about my life.We've had dinners. Kate is definitely a force to be reckoned with, whether it's her beauty or talent or command. It takes the pressure off me. We don't work the same room.It's god-awful. It's really Biblical how...